Fifty Years is a Long Time

Written by Anthony Douglas on 28 July 2017.

StaceA half-century ago, an old man named Arthur died of a stroke in a nursing home in Hammondville, aged 83. For the last 35 years of his life, he had written a single word, ‘eternity’, in chalk on pavements all over Sydney. And at last, it had come to claim him.

Arthur Stace was born in a slum and soon joined the family business: alcoholism. He’d been in prison on and off since he was 15 and his life was a mess. And then someone offered him a free meal - tea and rock cake, it turned out to be. Stace stumbled upon a men’s meeting at St Barnabas Broadway, heard the gospel, and knew that at last he’d found someone with the power to rescue him. He gave himself to Jesus and found himself made new. “That night, I realised that Christ was stronger than drink,” he later said.

Two years later, he heard an evangelist talk about how everyone needed to work out where they would spend eternity, shouting, “I wish I could shout ETERNITY through the streets of Sydney.” With the words ringing in his ears, Stace pulled a stick of chalk from his pocket, bent over, and wrote that single word on the footpath. His copperplate script was immaculate: not bad for a man who’d never been to school and was largely illiterate, with handwriting that was illegible.

Half a million words later, his time ran out - or did it? Half a century later, he lies forgotten by Sydney in Botany cemetery - or does he? Half his life spent on a one-word sermon that washed away overnight - or has it?

Time will tell.

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