Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A grief observed

I just finished reading daughter Carrie's copy of the C.S. Lewis book 'A Grief Observed.' Very good; and a nice, easy read at only 76 smallish pages. My kind of book in more ways than one. It was written in 1961, and the back panel states:
Written after his wife's tragic death as a way of surviving the 'mad midnight moments,' A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis's honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss. This work contains his concise, genuine reflections on that period: "Nothing will shake a man - or at any rate a man like me - out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself." This is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

I would highly recommend it for anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one... or basically just anyone and everyone, for that matter. The following are some quotes I want to remember. Many of them won't likely make much sense without reading the book though.

p. 3 (the first lines of the book) - "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing."

p. 10 - "An odd byproduct of my loss is that I'm aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they'll 'say something about it' or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don't."

p. 11 - "Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything."

p. 12 - "One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness). One only meets each hour or moment that comes. All manner of ups and downs. Many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst. One never gets the total impact of what we call "the thing itself." But we call it wrongly. The thing itself is simply all these ups and downs: the rest is a name or an idea."

p. 14 - "Alone into the Alone."

p. 17 - "For the first time I have looked back and read these notes. They apall me. From the way I've been talking anyone would think that H.'s death mattered chiefly for its effect on myself."

p. 24 - "If the dead are not in time, or not in our sort of time, is there any clear difference, when we speak of them, between was and is and will be?

p. 25 - "...the past is the past and that is what time means, and time itself is one more name for death, and Heaven itself is a state where 'the former things have passed away'."

p. 25 - "Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand."

p. 33 - "It doesn't really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist's chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on."

p. 37 - "If my house (or world) has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which 'took these things into account' was not faith but imagination."

p. 43 - "What do people mean when they say, 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good? Have they never been to a dentist?"

p. 45 - "You can't see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can't, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately: anyway, you can't get the best out of it."

p. 46 - "Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can't give it: you are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear."

p. 52 - "God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't... He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down."

p. 52 - "To say the patient is 'getting over it' after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he's had his leg off it is quite another."

p. 59 - (on why this is the last chapter) "Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don't stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there's no reason why I should ever stop."

p. 66 - "Images of the Holy easily become holy images - sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins."

p. 68 - "If you're approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you're not really approaching Him at all. That's what was really wrong with all those popular pictures of happy reunions 'on the further shore' (notions of heaven); not the simple-minded and very earthly images, but the fact that they make an End of what we can get only as a by-product of the true End."

p. 68 - "Lord, are these your real terms? Can I meet H. again only if I learn to love you so much that I don't care whether I meet her or not?"

p. 69 - "Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable."

p. 71 - "Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem."

p. 75 - "The best is perhaps what we understand the least."

p. 76 - "How wicked it would be, if we could, to call the dead back! She said not to me but to the chaplain, 'I am at peace with God.' She smiled, but not at me."

1 comment:

Scott said...

Of all the adjectives I could come up with "Nice" would be among the last. None the less as someone who lost a spouse after a long battle with a disease I feel I have a respect for Lewis that goes much deeper than most contemporary Christian authors who seem to have swept this particular piece under the rug.