This I Believe

Page, Elizabeth


  • Elizabeth Page recounts her experience of God's presence after the death of her sister, describes her belief in her responsibility to address problems in the world, and explains how her belief in black-and-white distinctions between good and evil came to change.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Elizabeth Page is a novelist and a social worker. Born in Vermont, educated at Vassar and Columbia, she entered social service work during World War I. This took her from New York to France and then to White Bay, Newfoundland, where she traveled about for four years by motor sailboat, bringing medical and industrial social services to remote areas. When she was 38, she began to write novels. Her best known adventure is Tree of Liberty, which was made into the motion picture Howards of Virginia. Here now are the beliefs of Miss Elizabeth Page.
I have to go back a long way to find my first experience with something that stood fast when my whole world fell.
My older sister, who was yet near enough to me in age for us to be inseparable, died when I was 7. Now, suddenly, it was no longer we, but I, who must do everything alone—terribly alone. It was not the sort of trouble I could frame into words and take to the grown people. It, like everything else in this frightening state of things, was a situation to be faced alone.
In common with most children, then, I had been taught to say my prayers. I usually galloped through them unthinkingly enough. But one night in that first dreadful week, as I prayed, I suddenly began to cry. My sister, Helen, was no longer kneeling beside me, and I now knew how cold and empty the bed would be when I got into it. And as I cried, it
came—what can I call it but an awareness of God, of a power warm and tender and wise enough to take me across that dreadful city street.
Other people and experiences enlarged the idea. My father, early, gave me John Fist’s Essays in Religion to read, thus placing me squarely in the stream of evolution and restoring the we concept in a larger scope; Hugh Black’s barbed statement in the Vassar Chapel: “The most heinous sin is to accept all the travail of society and give nothing in return;” and James Shockville’s course in Columbia in European origins, pushing the limits of time back and back to reveal the stupendous struggle—not only of humanity but of earlier life—to reach the human level. These things built up a sense of responsibility to that long line of unknown workers. We must not let them down.
At first, being young, I saw the world in black and white. But the Army and World War I modified that. I saw too many absolute rotters add to the heritage of human dignity by acts of superhuman courage. Later, in Newfoundland, I saw Dr. Grenfeld’s radiant belief create strength in weaklings. I watched my mother—blind, lame, and dying by inches of a painful disease, but keeping her interests and even her laughter—sustained by a faith whose tenets I could not accept. The form a faith took, I now saw, was personal to each one of us. Its test was whether it could keep us from sinking. And finally, I saw Europe in 1946, its ghastly destruction and its hungry people who could meet in ruined rooms to play the music of Sibelius or sing the chorales of Bach.
No thinking person who has seen such things can deny the existence of evil, rampant today, nor the existence of indomitable men and women. The human spirit, when it builds on the eternal, is unconquerable by any horror. Barbarians destroyed Greece and Rome, but the Renaissance built its arc and law on their foundations. Bombs can destroy our culture, but what we have captured of the timeless will reemerge with new colors all its own.
Where does a mere pygmy individual fit in such a creed? It is symbolic that the light of the greatest lighthouse is measured in candlepower. The Chinese say, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the dark.” This I believe.
Those were the personal beliefs of Elizabeth Page, social worker and novelist of Manchester, Vermont.