A minor infirmity led my doctor to prescribe rest, so I had good reason to cancel all my activities for the weekend, sleep in and approach Saturday morning refreshed and with nothing much to do but read.
That brought back memories of childhood, the way I would look forward to getting away into the world of a book. Those times brought me joy.
As it was, joy is central to what I had chosen to read on my “invalid weekend.” Friday night I attended a play with friends, an amateur production of “Shadowlands,” which dramatized the unusual marriage of C.S. Lewis and his wife, Joy Davidman.
The play, which was quite well acted, shows how Lewis and Davidman met — she called on him after corresponding for years, leading to a relationship that led to a marriage in name only that allowed her to remain in England, and ultimately, after her diagnosis with cancer, to a real too-brief marriage.
Her death brought him to question and reaffirm his Christian faith. I’ve read a fair amount of Lewis in recent years, and I had “Surprised by Joy” on my shelves.
Any good personal library contains many books that remain unread. Thinking it might be an account of this part of his life, I opened it.
Instead, it was an autobiography of Lewis’ early life, published in 1955, a year before his marriage. Still, I had time and was on doctor’s orders to rest, so I read the book in a day, something I haven’t done in a long time.
The book starts with his Belfast childhood, spends a lot of time on his education, skips briefly over his service in the Great War, and discusses his loss and regain of religious faith. It ends shortly after his conversion in 1929.
Joy is a central motif and organizing principle of this autobiography. For Lewis, Joy (he always capitalizes it) involves longing and anticipation. He says, “All Joy reminds. It is always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still about to be.”
As I read the book, I came to realize that Joy described my love of reading. A good book stimulates a desire to know something new, to have new experiences, to enter into a broader, richer world.
I’ve been blessed with that Joy quite often in my life, though it certainly does not happen always.
Different people have their own longings. I know one fellow who gets excited by gold. He thinks panning for gold is fun. I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t done it for more than 10 minutes, but it seemed tedious and unlikely in any event to be worth my time.
Another friend I’ve known for years deeply wants to be a writer. He has written several books, magazine articles, and many newspaper columns. After talking to him I came to the realization that my real longing is reading.
As for Lewis, Joy weaves in and out of his story. He has it, forgets it, finds it again, loses it again, concludes his book with it.
His final chapters are about his conversion. I found them frustratingly indirect. Some of his experiences were personal reactions to ordinary events. He also mentions books that affected him, including one by G.K. Chesterton that I ordered.
He wrote a book under a pseudonym about his marriage, his wife’s death and his shaken faith. It was republished posthumously under his real name as “A Grief Observed.” I ordered that one too.
I discovered Joy on a day of rest.