Lewis once wrote in a letter to his father in 1926 “Will you think me affected if I number a small illness among the minor pleasures of life? Work is impossible and one can read all day for mere pleasure with a clear conscience.”
If the forest of the Wandering Tree has been quiet for the past near-month, it is simply due to creatures, myself included, needing to crouch in small lairs to ride out an infestation of feverish maladies which have crept in through the underbrush. Unlike Lewis’s small illness of minor pleasure and conscience free reading, I’ve had to endure some downright hellish fevers and a persistant sinus infection, and a mood and outlook which would make a postmodern nihilist blush. That I’ve continued to teach throughout may be marked by some as courage and fortitude, but the reality is that semester exams are upon us and I need to close out grades post haste. Our current three day weekend has been a welcome respite, and provides a moment of reflection. And, as my sickness abates, it has turned into that small illness of minor pleasure of which Lewis speaks.
I’ve found little to no peace in my state of mind over the past week, vacillating between frustration and anger at not being able to focus. Yes, I know: when one is sick, one needs to chill. But I so often give a perfunctory wave to this caveat , and a round of self bullying ensues, leaving me going on the round and round like St. Paul in Romans: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Whereas Paul sees the reasonable out through Christ, I tend to stay on that merry-go-round until all my convictions are sufficiently blurred.
Therefore, I was happy to come across a literary prescription by Lewis in a letter he wrote to Arthur Greeves:
To his friend Arthur Greeves Lewis wrote about Samuel Johnson: “Isn’t it a magnificient style- the very essence of manliness and condensation. I find Johnson very bracing when I am in my slack, self-pitying mood.”
Ah, Dr. Samuel Johnson. A lion of literature from 18th Century England. Hmmm. So I pulled out my old battered Norton Anthology of English Literature, turned to page 2,674, and immersed myself in Johnson’s reflections on Spring, a distant future to most in the States, but a lingering image to a Floridian. Johnson acknowledges the existence of those such as myself.
“It must be laid down as a position which will seldom deceive, that when a man cannot bear his own company there is something wrong. He must fly from himself, either because he feels a tediousness in life from the equipoise of an empty mind, which, having no tendency to one motion more than another but as it impelled by some external power, must always have recourse to foreign objects; or he must be afraid of the intrusion of some unpleasing ideas, and perhaps, is struggling to escape from the remembrance of a loss, the fear of a calamity, or some other thought of greater horror.”
He then suggests that very few men know how to take a walk, and that to reflect on nature affords an intellectual respite from self bullying, that “he that enlarges his curiousity after the works of nature, demonstrably multiplies the inlets to happiness.”
A walk is a bit out of the question now, with a jolly good Florida downpour beating against the window panes, but surely I must pause to remember how long it has actually been since I’ve taken a walk, and how the rhythm and pace of my feet hitting the sidewalk often bodes well for my well-being.
And, in the meantime, a recognition of gratitude, once again, to Lewis, who has a tendency, if not himself to bundle up our personal issues into a coherent ball, then to point us in a coherent direction to those who can.