From a manuscript on which I putter every few years


Bodleian, Oxford
The Bodleian Library at Oxford from Radcliffe Square    (Wikimedia Commons)


C. S. Lewis commented on the death of his friend Charles Williams—with Lewis and Dorothy Sayers and J. R. R. Tolkien, one of the “Inklings” who met in Oxford to discuss literature and share their own on-going writing projects—a loss that Lewis described as “the greatest I have yet known.” (His own brief marriage to Joy Davidman, and his loss of her to cancer, agonizingly chronicled in A Grief Observed, were still years in the future.) “No event,” Lewis wrote, “has so corroborated my faith in the next world as Williams did simply by dying.  When the idea of death and the idea of Williams thus met in my mind, it was the idea of death that was changed.”  (C. S. Lewis, ed., Essays Presented to Charles Williams [1947] [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1966], xiv.)


Yet such intuitions were not new to him.  At the age of twenty-three, already a veteran of the First World War, Lewis had written a letter to his father regarding the death of an old teacher whom they had both known well.  “I have seen death fairly often,” Lewis said, “and [have] never yet been able to find it anything but extraordinary and rather incredible.  The real person is so very real, so obviously living and different from what is left, that one cannot believe something has turned into nothing.”  (Lewis, The Letters of C. S. Lewis, 59.)


Commenting on Lewis’s remark, Harvard psychiatrist Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., writes that “This observation reflects comments by some of my medical students after first observing the corpse of a patient they knew and realizing that the person was so much more than a body.”  (Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life [New York: The Free Press, 2002], 234.)


The American novelist Thomas Wolfe (d. 1938) wrote of an intuitive assurance that, though he would inevitably die (as he did, two years short of his fortieth birthday), death represented not an end but a grand beginning:


“Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year; something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where.  Saying:  “To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing: to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth—Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending—a wind rising, and the rivers flow.”  (Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again [New York: Harper and Row, 1981], 576.)



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