On December 5, 1916, two children – a ten year old boy and a girl of seven – crouched in the gutter in front of 37 boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris, an icy wind whipping their scarves and mussing their straggly hair. The boy held out a cap while the girl moaned to passing strangers, “Please! Give us anything! Or take us home and feed us!”
One passer-by stopped and shared a bag of peppermints.“Oh, thank you! You’ve saved our lives,” the children cried, “Our parents give us nothing but paper to eat!”
“You poor creatures! And with no socks on!”At that moment, the door opened behind the two children and a nicely dressed woman stepped outside in a warm winter coat. She looked down at the two children in the gutter and shook her head.
“What are you two doing out here?”The children, teeth chattering, looked meekly up and then back to the kindly woman who’d given them the peppermints. Suddenly, they leaped to their feet and bolted behind the woman and in through the door, giggling their way up the stairs.
“Those are my children, I apologize if they were bo-,” but her words were cut off by a slap to the face.“You wretch! How could you? Not dressing them for the cold! Making them eat paper!”
Shocked, and yet not surprised, the mother turned and made her way back inside to find her mischievous children.The “poor children” pranks were always planned by Andre but he soon found other ways to occupy his time and grew to become one of the mathematical geniuses of the 20th century.
Simone Weil’s part in the pranks, however, was a foreshadowing of the voluntary suffering she would partake in as philosopher and mystic for the remainder of her short life.