Letters to an American Lady

I’m sorry to say that my initial response to Letters to an American Lady was one of annoyance.  The book contains thirteen years of letters from C.S. Lewis (Jack) to a woman who kept writing him back.  Only Jack’s letters to Mrs. ——– (Mary) are published, but from his we get an idea of hers. She had many distressing circumstances, medical and financial.  

Lewis was from the old school of manners: for every letter he received, he wrote a reply. Jack doesn’t disguise his opinion: responding to mail was tedious and difficult and, at times, dreadful.  The daily letter-writing I have to do is very laborious for me. (May 6, 1959)  He asks Mary –nearly every year–not to write at holiday times. Will you, please, always avoid “holiday” periods in writing to me? (April 17, 1954)  And always remember that there is no time in the whole year when I am less willing to write than near Christmas, for it is then that my burden is heaviest. (January 29, 1955)

A majority of the letters have some explanation/apology from Lewis about the length it took him to respond.  (You have, you know, recently stepped up the pace of the correspondence! I can’t play at that tempo, you know.) (October 5, 1955)  I get on my righteous indignation and want to reproach Dear Mary to please quit bugging one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. 

Don’t get me wrong: there are some gems in these letters between the in great hastes and all good wishes.  All the best quotes from this book will be found in The Quotable Lewis if you’d like to skim the cream off the top.

As for wrinkles–pshaw! Why shouldn’t we have wrinkles?
Honorable insignia of long service in this warfare.
(October 30, 1958) 

The great thing with unhappy times is to take them bit by bit,
hour by hour, like an illness. It is seldom the present,
the exact present, that is unbearable.
(June 14, 1956) 

A man whose hands are full of parcels can’t receive a gift. (March 31, 1958)

: :         : :        : :

The second time through this short book (124 small pages) I had a better sense of its value. In short, it is a primer on helping people who are in pain. 

He prays for her.  From the first letter, I will have you in my prayers (October 26, 1950) to a letter written on behalf of Lewis by Walter Hooper, He is much concerned for you and prays that you may have courage for whatever may be yours both in the present and future. (August 10, 1963) there are assurances of prayer.

His words of sympathy are simple: May God comfort you. (October 20, 1956)  May the peace of God continue to infold you. (June 7, 1959)  I am most sorry to hear about…

Lewis writes about the daily stuff of life:  I love the empty, silent, dewy, cobwebby hours (September 30, 1958)  A big tree and a still bigger branch off another came crashing down in the wood yesterday, in windless calm–purely for lack of internal moisture. (August 21, 1959)  In these short snippets he offers a piece of his personal life, which, I’m certain, was received as a valued gift and a pleasant distraction.

If you love Lewis and want to read everything he wrote, this is a book for you.  For the rest of you, get The Quotable Lewis.

What is your favorite C.S. Lewis title? 
Which book would you recommend to a reader unfamiliar with C.S. Lewis?

Pull Ourselves Together



The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. 
If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb,
let that bomb, when it comes,
find us doing sensible and human things–
listening to music,
bathing the children,
playing tennis,
chatting to our friends over a pint
and a game of darts–
not huddled together
like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.

~ C.S. Lewis, written during World War II

Insert swine flu [or any crisis of the week] for atomic bomb. 
Lewis’ words are especially potent.
How will huddling and worrying add a day to your life?

I don’t want to discount the potential harm from swine flu.
Neither do I want to inflate the threat.

If the swine flu attacks me today–and I doubt it will–,
it will find me making a birthday dinner,
taking a walk, reconciling a bank
statement (one of my favorite tasks),
cleaning floors, answering the phone,
and reading a book.

What sensible and human things are you doing?