Monday, November 22, 2010

"Men must endure their going hence"

November 22, 1963 was the day of my Grandmother Skaggs's funeral. The family was gathered in my parents' house preparing to go to the church when we heard that the President had been shot in Dallas. We learned upon returning from the graveside that he had died. On that same day C.S. Lewis died. Understandably, news of his death was obscured by the assassination. I didn't learn that he had died for some time afterward but if it had not been for the coincidence of date his death would have received a significant amount of news coverage.

Some time later, visiting good friends then living in England, I had the opportunity to go to Oxford and visit many of the locations associated with Lewis, including the grave site. Somewhere, stored away, I have a photograph taken by one of my fiends of me standing near this grave. The epitaph, "Men must endure their going hence," chosen by CSL's brother, is from Shakespeare's King Lear. It was the quotation appearing on a calendar in Lewis's childhood home on the day his mother died. She died before he was ten. Lewis wrote:
With my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis. [Surprised by Joy, Chapter 1]
The actual enduring is borne by those who survive. Lewis was responsible for some of the most attractive imaginings of the experience of Christians after physical death.
The light and coolness that drenched me were like those of summer morning, early morning a minute or two before the sunrise, only that there was a certain difference, I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got "out" in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair. It gave me a feeling of freedom, but also of exposure, possibly of danger which continued to accompany me through all that followed. .... [The Great Divorce, Chapter III]
This is the anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, 1898-1963.