I’m partway through Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis in the Spring Reading Thing challenge, and it’s like entering another world. He just writes so beautifully. I wish I could express things like that. It’s almost like standing and staring at a Monet painting from a distance.
Anyway, Surprised by Joy is his sorta-autobiography. He deals at length on his childhood, because, as he says, one’s childhood is always the most interesting part of one’s life, and it’s integral to understanding his conversion story. He’s only about 14 at the point where I stopped for the night, so I can’t comment on anything more.
But a few thoughts for the journey.
He differentiates Joy from Happiness. The only thing joy has in common, he believes, is that once you experience it you want it again. But unhappiness or grief could even be part of joy. It is almost an other-worldly, intense experience that is quite glorious. I know what he means.
And that brings me to what really struck me tonight. But for that I have to back up.
Eleven years ago I had a beautiful baby boy, perfect to my sight except for a defect in his heart that, much as the doctors tried, could not be repaired. You can read a little bit about his life here, in one of the first articles I published, or look at a longer book I wrote about the journey of grief here. Suffice it to say that I know how grief and joy can be intermingled.
A year after my Christopher died Katie arrived, and she has always been my huggy-bear and a great comfort. But I still miss my little peanut.
On the night that he died we actually weren’t expecting it. It was five days post-surgery, and we left the hospital at 9:30 at night to go home and get some rest. The last thing I said to him was “Mommy loves you, sweetheart.”
When the phone rang at 1:30 that morning I knew the worst had come. We hurried down to the hospital, and a doctor told us that they had done all they could.
And then they brought his body out to us.
I wish they hadn’t. There is something absolutely horrid about dead bodies, because you know they’re dead before you even touch them. You can tell. It wasn’t him. And I didn’t want to remember that way.
For my husband, holding him was catharctic. I wish I never had. Few people understand that when I explain it. After all, we live in an age when open coffins are the norm. But C.S. Lewis agreed with me, so I feel in very good company.
This is what he says after the death of his mother:
I was taken into the bedroom where my mother lay dead; as they said, “to see her,” in reality, as I at once knew, “to see it”. there was nothing that a grown-up would call disfigurement, except for that total disfigurement which is death itself. Grief was overwhelmed in terror. To this day I do not know what they mean when they call dead bodies beautiful.
And perhaps it’s appropriate for me to be thinking about this on Holy Thursday, the time when Jesus was agonizing in the garden. In just a few short hours his mother would be anointing his body for burial, all the life taken out of it. It would no longer be Him.
And yet, in that moment He truly did defeat death, so that this empty shell of a human being is not all that remains anymore. And not just that, but the desecration of what was supposed to be life that the dead body shows has been redeemed, and we will one day see it in all its fullness.
I know tonight, somewhere in heaven, as the saints praise our Lamb once again, my grandmother is standing next to my son, and laughing over him. And I will join them one day, and then the image I have of Christopher will not be some desecration, but instead his glorious body that was made possible only because Jesus gave up His own body. And for that I am eternally grateful.
UPDATE: You can read my letter to Christopher on the fifteenth anniversary of his death here.