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The Belfast Ropeworks
by Jim McGuiggan


For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. —2 Timothy 1:7

An excerpt from...
Jesus, Hero of Thy SoulJesus, Hero of Thy Soul
Available online from Worthy.net
    I was twenty-one years of age (going on nine) when I worked in the Ropeworks. At our end of the huge shed, we produced big rolls of string; the six women who tended the front end of the six big machines were “piece workers”—the more string they made, the more money they earned. I worked at the back of the machines, and my job was to see that they were supplied with the raw materials which came to me in large bins.

    Sometimes the people supplying me were slow in getting the materials to me, and that meant the women had to wait until the supply came—and that meant less money. The rule was, whoever ran out of materials first was the first to get the fresh supply. Five of the women lived by that rule, but one of them completely ignored it. She would come around the back, check everyone else’s supply, and compare it with her own. If she saw it was. to her advantage to stop first and get the first fresh supply (thus avoiding having to join a line of waiters with perhaps four in front of her), she’d simply scrap the little she had left and say she had run out of material.

    This was a sly way to jump to the front of the line—she was cheating. What was particularly bad was that she knew I knew she did it, and she’d look straight at me as though challenging me to say something about it. What was worse, the five other women knew I knew, and they knew I was doing nothing about it. They didn’t say anything, but they often came round the back when she was cheating and, with a glance, let me know what they knew.

    I felt terrible about it. Why didn’t I stop her? I was afraid of her! She had a hostile look and a sharp tongue that could have opened a tin of salmon. I couldn’t get up the nerve to face her. Not only was I guilt ridden, I was miserable because my gutlessness was apparent to all those women.

    I don’t know what it was that morning when freedom finally came. I vaguely recall having a marked difference of opinion with my wife, and maybe I came into work already heated up and with adrenaline flowing. We weren’t long into the morning when the cheater came round the back for “business as usual,” but I shouted down the room to her, “You can leave it as it is; you’ll wait your turn like everyone else!” Well, she began to curse me and rant and rave, but she was too late—her doormat had tasted freedom!

She began to curse me and rant and rave, but she was too late—her doormat had tasted freedom!
    I’ve never been what you’d call a brave person (though I’ve done a few little things in my life that I’d rank as brave), but this was triumph. I felt like Rocky. I was ecstatic; I felt like running, jumping, shouting. I wanted to go round to the front of the machines and tell all those women what I had done.

    The depth of my elation embarrasses me now, since it was such a tiny incident—the kind of thing tens of thousands of people are doing at least once a day without a second thought. But it was liberation, don’t you see. I had shaken off the chains of fear that woman had bound me with—the chains I had allowed her to bind me with-and now it was as if I could breathe deeply. I felt bigger, taller, more handsome, smarter — as though I owed nobody anything, as though my life had been given a flesh new start.

    I know I was a better person for the next several days, living on the grand feeling, the inspiration of one noble deed, which for me, in my little fear-filled life, was brave. And, maybe, I’m still a stronger, finer person in some small way because I did what was right on that occasion. I like to think I am, though I’m not yet free of cowardice.

    Whether any of that is true, this is true: I did what was right and what was needed and what was long overdue; and even now, when I rehearse the story in my mind, I feel my heart stir in a deep longing to be like that always.

    Now, who do you need to kindly but plainly confront so you might enjoy some freedom and peace? Who is depending on you to obtain justice for them? Who do you need to face in order to deliver justice to those who depend on you? And how are you preparing to go about it?



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