On November 16, 1963 Lewis writes to Mary Van Deusen:
“Warren tells me that he had a letter from you on 20th October…He I’m glad to say is completely recovered, and as regards myself, I am thank God very much better; but I had a bad time in the summer. I’m…not allowed to go upstairs for one thing, and on a strict diet for another…I am grateful for my condition. I am able to write, and my friends are very good about coming to see me.”
On November 16 he also writes to Mrs. Frank L. Jones:
“…I have great cause for gratitude. I can still write, and my friends are very good about visiting me…”
“I rarely venture further afield than a stroll in the garden. Once a week I attend a reunion of old friends at one of the Oxford taverns. (Beer thank goodness is not on the list of things denied me). Sometimes some kind person takes me out for a run in a car. Otherwise I write, read, and answer letters; one day is like another. But you are not to think me unhappy or bored.”
[All excerpts are from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, 3Volumes, Walter Hopper, editor. Harper San Francisco.]
This series on Near the Journey’s End will soon be over. I’ve put off doing this post – how many are left in the series? One? Two? I’m reading a letter as if I’m in the room as Lewis writes it; what business is this of mine? What right do I have to intrude? As he pens the letter I know something he doesn’t know, I know Jack will die on November 22.
Did I just call him Jack? I want to highlight the word and delete it, I don’t know him well enough to call him Jack. Yes, I know that when he was about four years old that he announced to his family that he would henceforth not be known as Clive, but as Jacksie – and so it would be – Jacksie, Jacks, and finally Jack; no Clive. But Jack is too familiar for me to call him that, it is presumptuous, why I’ve never had a beer with him, I’ve never sat in his rooms at Oxford or Cambridge and shared a sherry or port or read prose or poetry. Who am I to call him Jack? No, he is Lewis to me, he’ll never be Jack.
He writes, he reads, he welcomes friends; there is the occasional walk in the garden and the occasional ride in a car; he welcomes friends, he reads, he writes. On November 16 he is writing some of his last letters.
The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis are three substantial volumes, this third volume contains 1,645 pages of letters, but are these the most vital of Lewis’s letters? No. The most vital letters of C.S. Lewis are without number. They exist in virtually every language and they span generations, educational, ethnic, and socioeconomic conditions; they live in minds and hearts and imaginations; people read them all the time without knowing they are reading them, for the letters of C.S. Lewis that matter the most are the lives of people who have been enriched and changed through touching Christ through Lewis. Whether it is dialectic reasoning in The Problem of Pain, Miracles, or Mere Christianity; or a visit to Perelandra or Cair Paravel, those who have made the journey seldom return without bringing a piece of the visit home with them – often returning again and again for a visit with Professor Lewis. And those who spend time with the Professor, whether on a walking tour, in a pub, or seated in a lecture hall, soon realize that while Lewis may enjoy our company, and while Lewis prizes friendship above most things in life, that Lewis’s hope for us is that we’ll meet his Best Friend, His Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – after all, it is all about Aslan’s appearing; the One who first appeared to Lewis on Addison’s Walk and on a motorcycle ride with Warren appears again and again in Lewis’s writing – he writes that Christ might appear to others as He appeared to him. Lewis wants us all to know the joy that surprised him.
Paul tells the Corinthians that you yourselves are our letter…to be known and read by all. C.S. Lewis has written his letters as well; are we writing letters in the lives of others? What will we leave? Will the books we write, the lives we lead, turn to dust at our passing – or will they be written on the hearts of others…and will the theme of our writing be Jesus Christ?