C.S. Lewis

People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.

I have been reading the Narnia books once again with J. And I still am struck by how much wisdom C.S. Lewis skillfully wove throughout these stories. There are indeed a great many things that can be both good and terrible at the same time. For this reasons, our own such labels are not very helpful. Acceptance is so much better. In the space where we can allow things to “just be” without any label, that is where love can be found.


I love books. Not just reading books, but the physicality, the sensation of touching the pages; the sound they make when the pages turn. Coming from the publishing industry, I am fascinated by font types and page layouts; the use of white space, the position of page numbers. I obsess over great book covers. I recently purchased a paperback of C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, dated 1965.

I remembered enjoying this book (the whole Lewis space trilogy really) when I was a tween. But now, seeing that mid-century book cover–the greens, the outlandish space bubbles–the type set and position of the title. It brought me back to my childhood. It was a visitor from afar. And heck yeah, I bought that book to put on my shelf. I love books. And if I hoard anything in this life, it would be books. Although I will sometimes go through a “clean out” phase and release books back to the used-book world. It’s all good as I usually purchase my books from the used book world. Sort of like breathing, take in–send out. So, I’ll never be on an episode of Hoarders, or whatever that show is called.

And I said I’d never read a book in an e-form. It wasn’t for me. I was sticking with the real deal–printed words on paper, surrounded by a lovely cover.

But then, in recent years, I’d see people on airplanes, with a whole library on their iPad or Nook and I’d be stuck with the one book that I chose to bring. And maybe I wasn’t feeling like a self-help book that particular day. And then I got an iPad for my birthday, mostly to organize playlists for teaching yoga. And my brother bought me an iTunes gift card and I thought, well, “why not just one.” And so I just did it. I read my first book on the iPad–Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I actually liked some aspects of the experience. I liked that I could read in bed without the lights on; I liked that this thin tablet fit so easily in one hand; I liked how I could highlight passages without having a pen or highlighter near by. And now I can go back and easily find a list of the passages I highlighted and, with the touch of a finger, find myself right at that page in the book.

And so, here I am, at one passage that describes the point of the long-distance hiker–so similar to meditation I suppose and that is why I am drawn to books about people who go into the wild, especially those who go alone. While Cheryl Strayed, just two years older than myself, was out on the trail, I was at home with a two year old and newborn and my first job post-law school as a law clerk for a district court judge in northern Minnesota, making a solitary study (my own solo journey I suppose) for the Minnesota bar exam, which I took while Cheryl was still on the trail–probably around the time she reached Oregon, during her solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. She said of this journey:

It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. * * * It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.

p. 254.

I devoured this book by Cheryl Strayed. In part, because I identify with so many pieces of her story. There are parts of her life that I can only imagine; that do not mirror my own. But the parts that did, drew me down into a deep reservoir of truth that only nonfiction can bring me to. All the more powerful because she is so much my contemporary and her story starts out in places in Minnesota that I know so well.  I kept thinking, as Cheryl mailed books to herself along the trail and burned them as she read them so she’d have less to carry, she wouldn’t have to do this if she’d had an eReader back in 1995. I suppose they even have solar rechargers for eReaders now. With electronic compasses and maps, I suppose the entire era of backpacking gear has already changed dramatically since 1995.

I don’t believe that I will become a committed e-reader. Heck, I just bought a new parenting book at a bookstore yesterday–the title uses the words “Love and Logic.” I still love physical books; will always love physical books–I know this to be true. But I do believe I will build up a small library of e-books–perhaps books whose covers I don’t particularly care for–on my iPad.

As far as aspects of the experience that I didn’t like goes, here is a list: I didn’t like how sometimes the pages would turn sideways on me at the slightest tilting of the iPad. I didn’t like that I couldn’t easily flip to the back of the book to see a picture or bio of the author (especially important with nonfiction I think). I know I could find this with only a few steps through the electronic table of contents, but it is not the same as flipping to it. I wasn’t thrilled with the fact that my reading device represents games to Josh and whenever he’d see me reading it would send the “I want the iPad” light off in his head (I suppose my Love and Logic book will help me address this issue). And I do not like how this book, Wild, became my friend, as good books will do, and now I do not have it sitting on the shelf with the rest of my friends. This is much how I felt about the missing CD case in my collection of musical friends when I started purchasing albums on iTunes. Maybe I’ll get over this, as I seem to have done with the missing CD case–although not quite. I recently purchased the new Lumineers album on iTunes. I love the album thoroughly from cover to cover. And I am actually sort of thinking about buying the physical CD. Crazy I know. Sometimes you do crazy things. Sometimes you do things you never thought you’d do.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything & your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies & little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis, from “The Four Loves”

This lesson just keeps coming up on my path–perhaps it circles through on everyone’s path–time and time again. If you want to love deeply, you will, at one time or another, experience a broke-open heart. No other way around it. Maybe just maybe you have an option of whether to be vulnerable in your adult relationships, but the moment you open your heart to a child, there is no option but to be in this place of love and vulnerability. Being a parent is one wild ride but I would choose this ride again and again. It is the place where I have learned to open my heart; where I’ve learned to bleed in the name of something higher than my own selfish needs.

Hannah is in Japan once again. And Josh is not “out of the woods” for another month or so. We are living on the little island of our own home, as if each day were a winter storm, shutting us in the house as we try to spare Josh any unnecessary germs. There have been moments over the past few days where I realize I am holding my breath, no longer breathing freely. Ah, but this does little to protect my own heart or my children. I must learn, once again, to let go. I am vulnerable. My children are vulnerable. It is our human state. The lesson is to make peace with the fragility and vulnerability of life and still breathe deeply, open wide the heart and yell “yes, yes!”


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