Victories Without Violence number 11 at the Progress Report
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Victories Without Violence
Muriel Lester decided to identify herself with the underprivileged people of Bow. The hole in the wall she first rented was no larger than six by nine. Her first occupation was simply to get acquainted with her fellow residents. They were never a bore. Even after she had been there more than a dozen years and Kingsley Hall, established in memory of her brother, had proved a popular neighborhood house for more than three years, a stout and bibulous lady whom we shall call Mrs. Smith set out from one of the thirty nearby saloons to “teach her a lesson.”
It was after the armistice that ended the First World War. The community still had war fever. Mrs. Smith had had trouble with her daughter and it occurred to her confused brain one night that Miss Lester would be a convenient scapegoat for her own suffering.
A neighbor overhearing the threat, rushed in Kingsley Hall to warn the workers there. “Mrs. Smith is treating everybody down at the Rose and Crown so that they’ll follow her. They’re all coming from the pub to throw vitriol in your face, dear. You’d better call the police.”
But the Kingsley Hall folk wouldn’t do that. Miss Lester told her colleagues, “This is our testing time. We’re going to be attacked in a few minutes. What’s the good of saying, ‘Sufficient is thin arm alone, and our defense is sure’ if we don’t mean it? Let’s go on dancing, but pass the word along to everybody quietly.”
They did, and they had that gleam of excitement that sometimes brightens the pacifist eye. Soon it was ten o’clock, closing time, but not a sign of the redoubtable Mrs. Smith. Most of the people went home a little disappointed but perhaps also relieved. The few remaining for prayer and sweeping and cleaning suddenly found some 20 excited men and women had burst through the side door of the hall, led by you know who. The huge Mrs. Smith “like a walking oak tree” advanced on Miss Lester. Kingsley Hall, she thought, should pay for what had happened to her daughter. She began a veritable tirade and seemed unable to stop it. The defense lay wholly in silent awareness of God.
At length a dock laborer detached himself from the group around Miss Lester; he slipped out by the side door into the prayer room. A minute later while Mrs. Smith was getting her breath for another outburst one of her tipsy supporters called out apparently quite irrelevantly, “Gawd will bring your daughter back, Mrs. Smith.”
“Of course He will,” broke in Miss Lester quickly, taking her cue. “Let’s have a prayer about it.”
Everybody gathered around, the men pulling off their caps, and joined the Kingsley Hall fellowship, praying that the Kingdom of Heaven might be set up in their streets and in their homes. All joined the Amen.
Then Miss Lester formally offered her arm to the surprised leader, and the two marched out together followed by all the rest, in amicable fashion.
Mrs. Smith became sober before they reached her home and solemnly swore eternal friendship, from which she has never wavered for a moment. Afterwards, if she heard anyone cricizing her friend, she would stand up massively, firmly place a hand on each hip and announce, “Miss Lester is a good woman. I won’t hear nothing against her.”
– from interviews with Muriel Lester