As I continue exploring the incredible literary legacy of C. S. Lewis, my journey has brought me to his signature journal of bereavement, A Grief Observed. This diminutive little volume was written upon the death of Lewis's wife, Joy Davidman Gresham, and is anything but a coolly calculated analysis. Every page is seared with hot tears.
To begin to grasp the character of the book, consider this anecdotal backdrop: "A Grief Observed describes [Lewis's] experience of bereavement in such a raw and personal fashion that Lewis originally released it under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk to keep readers from associating the book with him. However, so many friends recommended the book to Lewis as a method for dealing with his own grief that he made his authorship public." Certainly a rather peculiar situation to find oneself in: being urged to purchase your own possessions.
It is impossible to witness grief of this intensity without inquiring into the intense nature of the love that preceded it. Jack's marriage to Joy, after the latter had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, was a poignant blend of the erotic and the esoteric. Their mutual grasp on the nature of life and love made for an extraordinary relationship, as together their minds and hearts danced into and beyond the depths of human experience. And then it was over.
The only book I have read of a similar nature and caliber is A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. (Incidentally, in mute testimony to the man's inescapable influence in Christian literature, C. S. Lewis plays a prominent role in this story, as friend and counselor to the Vanaukens.) It is with several caveats that I recommend the book, which is to be taken, like most things, with a grain of salt.
Both books are brutally honest and full of that righteous recklessness that marks the heart that burns for heaven. Somehow, in the midst of it all, Lewis and Vanauken managed to capture their anguish with astounding coherency. Making the real readable is never an easy thing to do.
There is something stern and gloomy about reading these searching, retrospective thoughts while still an idealistic, forward-looking young man. But our lives are choked with both laughter and lamentation, and weeping remains the watchword of the wise.
Yes, joy often comes in the morning, and mercifully so; but the night returns, and death remains as sure as December. So we work and wait for that cloudless day when we will awake in the ultimate morning and rejoice in the redemption of the riddle.
After all, it's the hungry who find their way home.
Image courtesy of harpercollins.com