"father. Father. come quickly, come quickly!" It was a young man of eighteen. the nephew of one of our former students. He had come to me three weeks before as he and his family were in a war zone in Beirut. They had fled under fire from the Syrians and had been lucky enough to find a small house near us.
He was studying to enter the University but his school was closed and he hated having nothing to do. He had introduced himself and asked if he could give me a hand. A third of our children were not able to get to school as they would have had to cross danger zones.
I could not give him a class and he was a little downcast. when suddenly I though of one boy. Now aged nine he had been with us for four years which he had spent in the bottom class.
Each year he had watched five or six year-old companions going up to the next class as they had learni to lip-read, read and say at least a few words, even in some cases a short sentence or two. We had never been able to get the boy to make a sound. He wore a perpetual frown, but it was obvious he was intelligent.
I took Elie and the young man both to a neighbouring class and we settled down in front of one of the long mirrors we use. I started to show the young man how to teach the deaf to make sounds and combine them to make words, They spent all day, every day, in front of the mirror from Monday to Saturday' mid-day. I asked the young man if he had been able to get Elie to utter a CLARE had the bright idea and Simon tagged in on it. "I'm going to make a list of all the dead people I ought to pray for in November," she said and set to work. By bedtime, she and Simon had a long list beginning with relatives and friends. going to great grandparents and including most people of international note who had died within the decade of their experience.
Clare put in all the people on the 1939-1945 war memorial and Simon insisted that the 1914-1918 people should he there too. Then they began on their favourite "had" people, so Queen Elizabeth I and Hitler rubbed shoulders with Idi Amin. "But he's not dead yet," Clare objected.
"But he will be someday," said Simon. "and I might not he alive to do the praying then — and Father Middleton says God doesn't count time."
Looking down the list. I asked: 'Who on earth is Neo'? Don't vou mean Nero'?" "No," said Clare firmly . "Neo's the man in the sound, but he sighed and said: He obviously wants to and tries, but so far without result." The second and third week were the same.
On the Monday morning of the fourth week they went with the rest of us into the school chapel. All who are able recite the prayers aloud. Among these is one hand-written in a large gilt frame which reminds Our Lord (depicted in a coloured picture). that it was here in Lebanon that he gave hearing and speech to the young deaf-mute in the region Or -Tyre and Saida.
1 hey beg Our Lord to send His Holy Spirit into the minds of their teachers so that they would find the right methods to teach them.
The prayers over, they recite British Museum and he lived about 4.0(X) years ago and the label calls him Neolithic Man, but I've shortened it to Neo.
'He's just near the entrance to one of the Egyptian mummies' rooms and he's only a skeleton and they've put him in a grave exactly as he was when they found hint The other children said Ugh how horrid! when we were visiting with Sister, but I the Lourdes hymn this Foundation started at the Grotto of Lourdes). They cannot sing. alas, hut their speech rhythm is good. I watched Flie's lips but they never moved, though his eyes followed all the texts. We all came out of Chapel and the young man took Elie back to the class. gave him a school book — one much too advanced for a beginner. but it w as the nearest to hand and then came out of the class to fetch something he had lOgotten.
1 %'as at the other end of the long corridor. He collected what
he wanted and returned to the class. As he reached the door I SuP. his face change and then came his cry.
I ran. fearing the worst. Elie had had a heart attack? Ile was dead? 1 reached the door and I could not believe my eyes. Elie was sitting at one of the desks reading aloud from the book. without any hesitation and as if he had always known how to speak and read.
But there was a difference. His face no longer had any scowl. but a look of immense happiness. You would have thought there was a great light in his head. We rushed liked him — he didn't seem to have anyone to wrap him up and care for him like the Egyptian mummies and I wondered what he was like when he was alive — and there wouldn't have been anyone there then to say requiem aeternum and talk about perpetual light shining on him. so I sort of adopted Neo because he must have been just as alive as me. in and were rewarded with such a smile.
I told the young man to get behind Hie and follow his pronunciation. Ile read the whole page and the young man said: "I lis pronunciation is perfect."
I then told him to ask Elie to explain what he had read. Without the least difficulty Hie did so.
1 hen I took the book from him gave him an exercise hook and a pencil and asked the young man to give him a dictation from a page he had not seen. Elie never once looked at the young man's lips. He just started to .%% rite, obviously hearing all that %'as read.
The teacher looked at Elie's writing and said. not able to believe it: "There is not one m istak e".
I was staggered and burst out: "But Elie, who has taught you to speak?"
"There was a difference. Ilk face no longer had
tiny scowl, but a look if immense happiness. You would have thought there was a great light in his
I asked his father and mother later whether there had been any sign of the hearing or attempting to speak over the weekend at home, but there had not been the slightest sound.
In reply to my question. Elie turned to me with an astonished look and replied: "Yesouah" (Jesus).
"And I wonder sometimes if we'll meet in heaven because he must he a Holy Soul, I guess, by now. He couldn't have been a Christian because Jesus wasn't going to be born for another 2,000 years, but Sister says there's baptism of desire and I think Neo was living as good as he knew how, and so I go on praying to Our Lady for him."
Listening to Clare. I began by being amused. I knew the exhibit she was talking about. But he wasn't really an exhibit. With a child's simple directness, she was making theological ideas real for a real man. And I stopped being just amused. And there was one thing that Clare hadn't noticed.
The man who had lived and died so many thousands of years ago had been buried with ritual exactness. Some loving hands had bent his body so that he lay exactly as he had lain as a child in his mother's womb. The posture of death was the posture of one who expects birth. Neo in death awaits life.
I looked him right in the eye and asked: —Did you see I lint?" He replied: "No." Puzzled, I asked him: "How then do you know it was Jesus?" 1 le replied: "He spoke to me in my head."
"What did He say?"
"I le said to me: 'Elie, I am Jesus and I want you to know that from now on you can hear, speak, read and w rite'."
1 have often in the last twenty years felt extremely tired and even depressed when except for school hours I have been all alone with my fifty boys and girls. How many times have I thanked Our Lord, who in the Garden of Olives knew depression, that He is able through that experience to sympathise with us: and this miracle w ith Elie was almost as if He was wanting to revive my drooping spirit.