This post anticipates a post that will appear sometime next year, the Lord willing. I’m writing this now because I don’t want to lose the moment – I find myself nearing the end of a journey, and no matter how often I may revisit the scenes along the way, I’ll not take this journey again from first to last.
I have been reading the 3-volume compilation of the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper; Harper San Francisco, for perhaps four years; I will soon read the last letter, I intend to do so before December 31, 2011. The next letter I will read is dated May 11, 1962, it is on page 1340; the last letter I will read is dated November 21, 1963, page 1483; Lewis will die on November 22. I don’t know if he knew that he’d die on the 22nd or not, but I know it.
I know that he will die just as I knew that his beloved wife, Joy, would die from a recurrence of cancer; I read his letters of hope, of joy, of thankfulness to God that the cancer was in remission…all the time knowing that on a turn of the page I would read his news of the return of cancer, knowing that on another turn of a page I’d read of her death.
This last season of letters is illustrated by the following written to Chad Walsh on April 21, 1962:
The news about me is rather ambivalent. They don’t think my kidneys will ever be ripe for that operation; on the other hand they think that I can carry on without it in an invalid sort of way – always catheterized and always on a low protein diet. I attempt the Cambridge term on Tuesday next.
After Joy’s death Lewis wasn’t the same physically; his health descended until it reached that eternal portal in November 1963. Multiple blood transfusions, heart problems, kidney problems, a prostate that needed an operation but a body too weak to undergo the procedure. He loved to teach, but he was confined to home. He loved walking tours, but they were to be no more. His vigorous correspondence was often reduced to simple acknowledgements of letters – the joy was subdued, he was sick, at peace but sick.
I’ve been on walking tours with Lewis throughout his letters, experiencing the pubs and mountains and vales with streams running through them; I’ve shared his friendships with Tolkien and Williams and Barfield and Dyson and with dear dear Arthur Greeves, a friend since childhood. Lewis’s correspondence with Dorothy L. Sayers has been a like a fine Port meant to be swished and smelled and savored.
These last letters are tough to read. He’s sick. My friend Lewis is sick and I know that in a few days I’ll read his last letter. But oh what a journey!