There was mist on the mountain this morning, the air hardly moving, a slow drift of indistinctness through the pines. Nonetheless we were able to find the road and so continue the climb, discussing War and Peace and war and peace. News from down below was scarce but a text message was received which told us of the man on the soapbox. Somebody laughed, somebody shuddered. But then a figure emerged from the memory banks: Lord Soper. Like an icon I had grown up with and then lost sight of. A man of the 20th century, born 1903, died 1998 in his favourite armchair, according to the obituary in the Guardian. A Methodist, a man of principle: pacifist, socialist, Christian, CND, anti-blood sports campaigner, teetotaller, an almost endless list of principles. And also, of course, always on his soapbox, literally and figuratively, at Tower Hill and Speaker’s Corner, rain and shine, combative, ready for argument. His mind formed, or forged might be a better word, in the heat of Methodism.
Dante’s Commedia famously gets going in a dark forest, the dark forest of a mid-life crisis as we might call it nowadays. Life gone wrong and he’s thirty five which means that he cannot even join his local chapter of Men Beyond 50. So, as I am currently reading Prue Shaw’s Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity, and translated chunks of the Commedia, it seemed to me that there was some sort of parallel to be drawn between Dante and Soper involving this notion of being men of principle. They lived out those principles with whatever sacrifice that entailed. It sounds to me that Soper had a rich cultural and spiritual life and I hope that Dante had that too. The journey of the Commedia initially with Virgil and later with Beatrice whilst a work of literature must also be a version of his own life from the dark forest onwards. My only hesitation is the harsh, and is it bitter?, expression on his face as it is portrayed. Was it the painful personal cost of his exile? Whilst Soper was banned from speaking on the BBC during WWII that can’t be exactly compared to exile from Florence with the promise that his return would mean being burned alive though later this was changed to decapitation.
To what degree, I ask myself, have I lived out the principles, that I confess to? Have I stood up on some metaphorical soapbox and argued for what I believe in? Not really. But could it be said that I did in fact commit to the possibilities of radical transformation via the work of psychotherapy, starting from the question of what is it to be human. To be sure a quieter form of work . . . and would I mount the barricades of my beliefs when (or if) the time comes. We shall see.