by Jennifer Worth
This book was a treasure. I could barely put it down. I have been a huge fan of the “Call the Midwife” series on PBS, so the stories were all familiar. But I am so glad that I read this memoir. It goes into much greater detail about the lives of the characters and the circumstances of life in the postwar East End of London in the 1950′s. The stories in the book are not sugar coated. Some are dark and graphic. While I was reading this, I contemplated about the strength of women during this time, not only in the form of natural childbirth but in their ability to raise large families in small, cramped, and impoverished spaces, many without luxuries such as indoor plumbing that we so take for granted today.
I also appreciated the evolution of the author’s perspective on the circumstances in which she was living and working as a midwife. She grew from a skeptical and freethinking young girl easily appalled by the poverty and filth around her to one who was sympathetic to the plights of the people with whom she worked. Her heart grew tender and filled with love and service. Her journey to faith in God was in large part to the nuns with whom she worked and lived. This journey towards faith in this first memoir (there are three) is embodied in this passage of a conversation with an elderly nun who had devoted her life to midwifery and service to the East End:
“She looked unusually tired that day and, as she lay back on the pillows, the wintry light from the window accentuating her pale, aristocratic features, my heart filled with tenderness. I had come to a convent by mistake, an irreligious girl. I would not have described myself as a committed atheist for whom all spirituality was nonsense, but as an agnostic in whom large areas of doubt and uncertainty resided. I had never met nuns before, and regarded them at first as a bit of a joke; later with astonishment bordering on incredulity. Finally this was replaced by respect, and then deep love.
What had impelled Sister Monica Joan to abandon a privileged life for one of hardship, working in the slums of London’s Docklands? ‘Was it love of people?’ I asked her.
‘Of course not,’ she snapped sharply. ‘How can you love ignorant, brutish people whom you don’t even know? Can anyone love filth and squalor? Or lice and rats? Who can love aching weariness, and carry on working, in spite of it? One cannot love these things. One can only love God, and through His grace come to love His people.’ “
Do yourself a favor, friend, and read this book!
Until next time,