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Scroll down the blog for this month's discussion questions. Read the book and comment on the blog. And have fun!!!

Friday, July 24, 2009

July: A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis)

Feel free to share your general thoughts and opinions on the book - the plot, the characters, the style of writing, the setting, whatever strikes you. Also, you're invited to reference any scenes or passages you found memorable (for whatever reason).

If you'd prefer to answer questions rather than write freestyle, here are some:

1. Did you like the book? Why or why not?
2. Would you read it again or recommend it to a friend?
3. Who was your favorite character, and why?
4. Did it make you think? What about?
5. Did it make you happy or sad, afraid or hopeful...what did it make you feel, was there an overall impression when you finished it?

5 comments:

Rissalee said...

Where to begin? Well, first, a warning: This is going to be a long comment. For starters, Lewis is my favorite author - I've studied him as part of my Philosophy degree and as a delightful hobby. Plus, this particular book means a lot to me and always pushes me to think.

I've read this book several times, and each time I learn something different about life and loss (and a variety of other things) from reading the wisdom Lewis shares. Lewis is always insightful in his writings, but this book has such a personal feel to it that one can't help but be moved with compassion for the pain Lewis was suffering.

It's difficult, for me, to say that I can "relate" to what Lewis writes because I've not lost a spouse, and I feel like an interloper of sorts when I read his words and begin to feel similar (what I imagine must be similar) emotions myself. I don't want to do Lewis or Joy an injustice by saying "I know how he feels." Yet, at the same time, I DO feel as though I can relate, and I attribute that primarily to Lewis' keen skill as an author and observer of humanity and secondarily to my own experience and shared human condition.

I've lost someone close to me to cancer and know that cancer does things to a person that are unspeakably horrific. To watch (let?) someone die is difficult in itself; cancer makes it unbearably so.

I've also recently experienced different kinds of "loss," and while death is a unique loss, the grieving process for any type of loss seems to be quite similar and universal. Sometimes (and again I hesitate to say this for fear of offending Lewis) I wonder if death isn't in some ways a preferred loss because of its permanence (one can't very well continue to try to years on end to "get back" the deceased), and because of its arbitrariness (in most cases, one can't legitimately be held responsible for the other's death).

Given my experiences, I looked forward to this month's reading because I expected to gain new insights into the grieving process and also be challenged to review some of my current beliefs and schemas. My expectations were not in vain - Lewis did not disappoint.

Instead of sharing all that I gleaned from the book, I'm going to wrap up my comment by quoting some lines from the book. That way, if you didn't get around the reading the book, you can at least get some of it...but I do recommend that you read it in full at some point (it's very short).

[See my next comment.]

Rissalee said...

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear...the same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing...There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take it what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. [Page 1]

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don't really mind so much, not so very much, after all. [Page 2]

And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief...I loathe the slightest effort...They say an unhappy man wants distractions - something to take him out of himself. Only as a dog-tired man wants an extra blanket on a cold night; he'd rather lie there shivering than get up and find one. [P3]

For those few years H. and I feasted on love; every mode of it - solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. [P6]

Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief. Do these notes merely aggravate that side of it? Merely confirm the monotonous, treadmill march of the mind round one subject? But what am I to do? I must have some drug, and reading isn't a strong enough drug now. By writing it all down (all? - no: one thought in a hundred) I believe I get a little outside it. That's how I'd defend it to H. But ten to one she'd see a hole in the defense. [P10]

The rough, sharp, cleansing tang of her otherness is gone. [P22]

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you...Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief...In which sense may it be a house of cards? Because the things I am believing are only a dream, or because I only dream that believe them? [P25/45]

I'll stop there - Lewis does go on to a more hopeful tone, but I'll let you discover how and why on your own. Thank God for CS Lewis, who can take the inarticulate inner groanings of grief and deftly shape them into words that are at once both profound and practical - speaking clearly of what we have only hazily felt, and doing so in such a way to help us work through our own intensely personal grief as though he were along side us, giving the guidance that only someone familiar with the path can give.

fthluvhope said...

"You can't see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears" (45). I think this statement from C.S. Lewis summarizes his thoughts on grief. I appreciated his raw honesty, heartache, and questions as a great man of faith who is indeed very human. It was only when
"I mourned H. [his wife] least, [that] I remembered her best" (44) and "the less I mourn her the nearer I seem to her" (56). I remember first hearing about C.S. Lewis' life and the death of his wife while I was standing in a book store nearly ten years ago. Though I do not remember who was telling me about C.S. Lewis, I do remember that person describing him as someone who had to lose his wife to deepen his faith. That always stayed with me as one of my only knowledgeable details of his life... and I remember both being shocked and humbled by it. So as I read A Grief Observed, I realized that this was that story of C.S. Lewis, and I read more indepth about this aspect of his life and faith. Throughout Lewis' journal, he uses beautiful figurative language to describe the death of one's mate: it is like a valley, it is like an amputation, a map of sorrow. One of the most profound descriptions is when he says: "We were one flesh. Now that it has been cut in two, we don't want to pretend that it is whole and complete." We will be still married, still in love. Therefore we shall still ache" (54). Oh, what a beautiful blessing of marriage... and the truth indeed that we enter into the covenant knowing that more than likely, someone is going to grieve the other. And I can relate to Lewis' realization that his order went him, his wife, and then God. "In that order. The order and the proportions exactly what they ought not to have been" (62). That was truth to me! "Praise in true order; of Him as the giver, of her as the gift" (62)... what great perspective and shift! I liked what his stepson said in the foreward, that "it almost seems cruel that her death was delayed long enough for him to grow to love her so completely that she filled his world as the greatest gift that God had ever given him, and then she died and left him alone in a place that her presence in his life had created for him" (xxx). His story will forever remind me of the quote: is it better to have loved and lost, or never to have loved at all? I think his journal answers that question both beautifully and painfully. So I take refuge in his words and his situation, one that I can not relate to, but know is inevitable in love and life. I too think "it is all right to wallow in one's journal... what we work out in our journals we don't take out on family and friends" (xiv). I thank him for writing, for sharing, and for loving.

fthluvhope said...

Rissalee: I'm impressed with your knowledge and love for Lewis! Though I have read many of his books (albeit when I was pretty young), I don't know much about his life. And I agree that this book does have such a personal feeling... but I suppose journals tend to be written for an audience of one. Good quotes! I have many highlighted and I think I will find this book to be a value resource the more I experience "life, love and other mysteries." I can see why you read it every year!

Rissalee said...

fthluvhope: As always, thank you for your comments. They are (as always) articulate, insightful, and compelling. You make me think and allow me to see with different eyes. For that, and for the unique voice you bring, I'm grateful for your presence on this blog. And I'm convinced that you are a superb teacher!!!