Friday, November 11, 2011

C.S. Lewis and William Gresham

On April 4, 1957, Lewis wrote to Bill Gresham, Joy’s former husband and the father of David and Douglas; excerpts follow:

…Of course I cannot judge between your account and Joy’s account of your married life; nor is it perhaps the chief point. What you and I have to think of is the happiness of the boys…Why should there not be a real unconfused, reconciliation between you and them when they are grown up? But by forcing them back at a moment when their hearts are breaking you will not facilitate this but render it permanently impossible. The boys remember you as a man who fired rifles thro’ ceilings to relieve his temper, broke up chairs…and broke a bottle over Douglas’s head…Children have indelible memories of such things and they are (let us admit) self-righteous…

Wait Bill, wait. Not now. A bone that breaks in a second takes long to heal. The relation between you and your sons has been broken. Give it time to mend. Forcible surgery (without anesthetics) such as you are proposing is not the way.

When I first read this letter (and another that I’ll excerpt in the next post) I “saw” Lewis  in a light that I hadn’t seen before, namely that of a husband and step-father trying to do his best for his wife and step-sons; here is a picture of a domestic Lewis in a most difficult situation. When I was typing these excerpts this morning I almost moved on to other letters, skipping this one, because of Bill Gresham – after all – Mr. Gresham was no worse than any of us outside of Christ, and since in Christ we have nothing to be proud of regarding ourselves we simply have no grounds for comparing ourselves favorably with Bill Gresham. So I felt (and feel) as if I’m intruding on something that is none of my business and which exposes Mr. Gresham to unwarranted judgment.

Perhaps if these letters were a hundred years old I wouldn’t feel quite the same, they’d be more “history” then rather than of recent vintage, at least recent for me. However, these letters are in the published Collected Letters and in the interest of sharing glimpses of Lewis, his relationships, his thinking, and his heart, I’m quoting excerpts. But let me caution – it is a fool that looks down on William Gresham, a fool that lives in a house without mirrors. I’ve been that fool more than once in my life.

Here is Lewis, caring for a dying wife, trying to do his best for his step-sons, teaching at Cambridge, conducting a general correspondence that would overwhelm most of us, caring (off and on) for an alcoholic brother, continuing his literary career, and in the midst of his own painful health problem – osteoporosis.

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