Sunday, January 09, 2005

What if Death Were Optional?

You are a bit further on the road than I am and will probably smile at a man whose fifty-first birthday is still several weeks ahead starting his meditation de senectute.* Yet why? The realisation must begin sometime. In one way, of course (no, in two) it began much earlier. (1.) With the growing realisation that there were a great many things one wd. never have time to do. Those golden days when one could still think it possible that one might some time take up a quite new study: say Persian, or Geology, were now definitely over. (2.) Harder to express, I mean, the end of that period when every good, besides being itself, was an earnest or promise of much more to come. Like a pretty girl at her first dance: valued not chiefly for itself but as the prelude to a whole new world. Do you remember a time when every pleasure (say, the smell of a hayfield on a country walk, or a swim) was big with futurity and bore on its face the notice 'Lots more where I come from'? Well there's a change from that to a period when they all begin to say 'Make the most of me: my predecessors outnumber my successors.'

Both these two feelings --the twitch of the tether and the loss of promise I have had for a long time. What has come lately is much harsher--the arctic wind of the future catching me, so to speak, at a corner. The particular corner was the sharp realisation that I shall be compulsorily 'retired' in 1959, and the infernal nuisance (to put it no higher) of patching up some new sort of life somewhere.[...]

Have you ever thought what it wd. be like if (all other things remaining as they are) old age and death had been made optional? All other things remaining: i.e. it wd. still be true that our real destiny was elsewhere, that we have no abiding city here and no true happiness, but the un-hitching from this life was left to be accomplished by our own will as an act of obedience & faith. I suppose the percentage of di-ers wd. be about the same as the percentage of Trappists is now.
~C.S.Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II, Letter to Warfield M. Firor of Oct 15, 1949

*'on old age'; an allusion to Cicero's work of that name.


Cool link of the day: An interview with Debra Winger about the movie "Shadowlands"

3 Comment(s):

At Sun Jan 09, 07:56:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Sorry to post this rather depressing thought, of Lewis contemplating his own mortality. I ran across it in his Letters last night, and I thought it so interesting that he was already beginning to think this way at only 51 years old. Of course, he has no way of knowing that in a couple of years he would meet Joy Davidman and his life would turn upside down!

I wonder what he means by "percentage of Trappists". Were there a lot of Trappists? Was it a fad? Or is he referring to their rarity. Hmmmm.

At Mon Jan 10, 04:12:00 AM EST, Blogger Bob said...

Oh, their rarity, certainly. I don't know any Trappists, but I've always gotten the impression that Trappist orders were particularly demanding. I think Lewis is saying that there is so much in this world to do, to see, to experience and to enjoy that few people would willingly lay down their lives and move on. Tolkien seems to have thought the same way; the men of Numenor fell into evil through trying to avoid death.

At Mon Jan 10, 08:05:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Have I told you how glad I am to have you around? ;-)
Thanks for that--the passage makes total sense with that information.


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