Do you remember telling me you found the sweetest thing of all
You said one day this was worth dying for
So be thankful you knew her at all
But it’s no more
~Dido (See the Sun)
Recently I was listening to an interview with Walter Hooper – the main editor of C.S. Lewis’ works and writings – and discovered to my dismay that, according to Hooper, many of Lewis’ journals and notebooks were burned in a bonfire by his brother who was clearing out the house in order to move shortly after C.S. Lewis’ death. Apparently the only notebooks to escape the flames were those that were recovered by Walter Hooper himself who happened to come for a visit during that time.
I could hear in the interviewer’s tone of voice that he shared my dismay – why would anyone in their right minds purposely burn Lewis’ writings? I felt indignant. No, outraged! These are literary and theological treasures we are talking about! Who has the right to banish them from the world? I fumed as I paced back and forth in my kitchen – I muted the sound on the interview and tried to focus on chopping the potatoes for dinner. The banging sound of the knife colliding with the cutting board was perhaps louder than it needed to be as I vented my frustration on the defenseless vegetable.
But by the time I had lathered my potato cubes up in oil and rosemary and set them into the oven, my fuming session was over. I was no longer thinking about how tragic it was that some writings of Lewis had been destroyed, but was thinking about how many had not been! Because of the diligence of Walter Hooper and others, there is a veritable banquet of C.S. Lewis writings available – enough to satisfy even his most ardent fans. How quickly we are to jump to the conclusion that more is always better… when sometimes it is just more.
I remember reading an article lamenting Mozart early death (he died at the age of 35) and the author assumed that if Mozart had lived longer we would have even more of his magical mastery of the musical form. However, during Mozart’s short life, he was prodigiously productive – composing over 600 works! Would he have composed more if he had lived longer? Undoubtedly. But how can we demand more, before we have fully partaken of what we have already been given. Why do we feel cheated out of “more” when we don’t know how to deeply embrace and enter into the works of beauty and greatness we have already been given? Isn’t it an odd appetite that we have – this appetite that barely tastes what’s on the platter before moving on to the next platter and then demanding to be given more?
I once heard of a mother who was seeking advice on how much classical literature she should include in her children’s reading at home and the response she received was a simple question – “How many insights into the human soul do you think your children need?” Woah. When I first heard this it set me back on my heels. What a question! It is the sort of question that does not ask for an answer, but a lifetime of pondering. How many indeed? Is there a limit? Is there a goal?
Here again I glimpsed another unexpected blessing that I am given through the grace of “endings”. Continuing on in Part Two with this theme of recognizing the goodness of endings, I want to think about how the possibility (or reality) of endings should not just fill us with sadness or regret, but should open our hearts to a profound sense of gratitude. As the old Joni Mitchell song says, “You don’t know what you’ve got until its gone”. This is a truth that is born out in many different ways. The proverb, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” comes to mind because we tend to overlook what is right in front of us thinking that we already know (or have already consumed?) that which we are presented with in the here and now. And if we perceive no threat to the goodness we already “have”, then there is almost a universal tendency to overlook it and look beyond to what has not been given to us. It is a human tendency as old as the Garden of Eden.
But the grace of endings (and likewise the potential of endings – since none of us knows the ending point of our own lives or those around us) is that we are able to see again the goodness all around us, bestowed upon us. This cup of green tea as I read a funny chapter from “All Creatures Great and Small”, today’s weather of rain and cold mist, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony on the radio, a thank you voicemail message from an old friend, laughter shared with my sister on the phone, and the gift of language and sight that allows me to write down my thoughts and reflections for others to read…
What I have been given is uncountable… but I only recognize them for the treasures they are because one day they (or I) will reach an ending of this time together.
I do not usually go to Dido as an insight muse on life, but there are a few songs which have stood out to me as highlighting a truth not often touched on in other songs. One of those is called “See the Sun” in which she talks about encouraging someone who is mourning the loss of their love. She says, “You said one day this was worth dying for. So be thankful you knew her at all…” Be thankful. This is a re-occurring theme in Dido’s work. One of my favorite songs by Dido is entitled simply that: “Thank you.”
It is because of endings, that I can come to deeply appreciate the beauty of heartening stories, sublime music, soul-stirring poems, and of my own humble moments of loving and becoming and bearing witness to one another.
I do not possess such things any more than I can claim to possess my own life. Endings never fail to humble me. They strip me of the illusion that I have an inborn right to beautiful works of genius, or inspiring stories of wisdom or commonplace relationships inherent in life itself. My awareness of all things having a limited time in this world and an appointed ending gives me the freedom not to hoard, but receive with gratitude what I might have overlooked knowing that “this too shall pass…”