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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint

PART III


 

18:  INTERLUDE

Service life in this way teaches a man to live largely on little. We belong to a big thing, which will exist for ever and ever in unnumbered generations of standard airmen, like ourselves. Our outward samenesses of dress and type remind us of that. Also our segregation and concentration. The clusters of us widen out beyond Cadet College, beyond Whitewash Villas, beyond Depot, over hundreds of camps, over half the world. The habit of 'belonging to something or other' induces in us a sense of being one part of many things.

As we gain attachment, so we strip ourselves of personality. Mark the spiritual importance of such trifles as these overalls in which we shroud ourselves for work, like robots: to become drab shapes without comeliness or particularity, and careless, careless. The clothes for which a fellow has to pay are fetters to him, unless he is very rich and spendthrifty. This working dress provided us by the R.A.F. is not the least of our freedoms. When we put it on, oil, water, mud, paint, all such hazardous things, are instantly our friends.

A spell of warm weather has come back to us, as if summer feared to quit this bleak north. The wind keeps its bite; but our hangar shelters a calm crescent of tarmac and grass, and its open mouth is a veritable sun-trap. Through the afternoon eight of us lay there waiting for a kite which had gone away south, across country, and was overdue. Wonderful, to have it for our duty to do nothing but wait hour after hour in the warm sunshine, looking out southward.

We were too utterly content to speak, drugged with an absorption fathoms deeper than physical contentment. Just we lay there spread-eagled in a mesh of bodies, pillowed on one another and sighing in happy excess of relaxation. The sunlight poured from the sky and melted into our tissues. From the turf below our moist backs there came up a sister-heat which joined us to it. Our bones dissolved to become a part of this underlying indulgent earth, whose mysterious pulse throbbed in every tremor of our bodies. The scents of the thousand-acre drome mixed with the familiar oil-breath of our hangar, nature with art: while the pale sea of the grass bobbed in little waves before the wind raising a green surf which hissed and flowed by the slats of our heat-lidded eyes.

Such moments of absorption resolve the mail and plate of our personality back into the carbo-hydrate elements of being. They come to service men very often, because of our light surrender to the good or evil of the moment.

Airmen have no possessions, few ties, little daily care. For me, duty now orders only the brightness of these five buttons down my front.

And airmen are cared for as little as they care. Their simple eyes, out-turned; their natural living; the penurious imaginations which neither harrow nor reap their lowlands of mind: all these expose them, like fallows, to the processes of air. In the summer we are easily the sun's. In winter we struggle undefended along the roadway, and the rain and wind chivy us, till soon we are wind and rain. We race over in the first dawn to the College's translucent swimming pool, and dive into the elastic water which fits our bodies closely as a skin: - and we belong to that too. Every-where a relationship: no loneliness any more.

 

I can't write 'Finis' to this book, while I am
still serving. I hope, sometimes,
that I will never write it.




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