The following is an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce. This bit of writing changed me when I was a young woman and I refer to this passage often. Its meaning, that joy and love will not ever give in to the tyranny of misery. Pity is not love. Chances are pretty darned good I’ve already posted this same passage in this blog before, but I’m not going to go back and check. Here it is. Skip over it and come back to it if you want to. It’s unfair to post a big glob of writing in the beginning of a personal blog, but this isn’t great writing, it’s just a blog.
The setting is the outskirts of heaven:
…While she spoke the Lady was steadily advancing towards us, but it was not at us she looked. Following the direction of her eyes, I turned and saw an oddly-shaped phantom approaching. Or rather two phantoms: a great tall Ghost, horribly thin and shaky, who seemed to be leading on a chain another Ghost no bigger than an organ-grinder’s monkey. The taller Ghost wore a soft black hat, and he reminded me of something that my memory could not quite recover. Then, when he had come within a few feet of the Lady he spread out his lean,s haky hand flat on his chest with the fingers wide apart, and exclaimed in a hollow voice, “At last!” All at once I realised what it was that he had put me in mind of. He was like a seedy actor of the old school.
“Darling! At last!” said the Lady. “Good Heavens!” thought I. “Surely she can’t–”, and then I noticed two things. In the first place, I noticed that the little Ghost was not being led by the big one. It was the dwarfish figure that held the chain in its hand and the theatrical figure that wore the collar round its neck. In the second place, I noticed that the Lady was looking solely at the dwarf Ghost. She seemed to think it was the Dwarf who had addressed her, or else she was deliberately ignoring the other. On the poor dwarf she turned her eyes. … She stooped down and kissed the Dwarf.
. . . “Frank,” she said, “before anything else, forgive me. For all I ever did wrong and for all I did not do right since the first day we met, I ask your pardon.”
I looked properly at the Dwarf for the first time now: or perhaps, when he received her kiss he became a little more visible. One could just make out the sort of face he must have had when he was a man: a little, oval, freckled face with a weak chin and a tiny wisp of unsuccessful moustache. He gave her a glance, not a full look. He was watching the Tragedian out of the corner of his eyes. Then he gave a jerk to the chain: and it was the Tragedian, not he, who answered the Lady.
“There, there,” said the Tragedian. “We’ll say no more about it. We all make mistakes.” With the words there came over his features a ghastly contortion which, I think, was meant for an indulgently playful smile. “We’ll say no more,” he continued. “It’s not myself I’m thinking about. It is you. That is what has been continually on my mind–all these years. The thought of you–you here alone, breaking your heart about me.”
“But now,” said the Lady to the Dwarf, “you can set all that aside. Never think like that again. It is all over.”
. . . “You missed me?” he croaked in a small, bleating voice.
Yet even then she was not taken aback. Still the love and courtesy flowed from her. “Dear, you will understand about that very soon,” she said. “But today–.”
What happened next gave me a shock. The Dwarf and the Tragedian spoke in unison, not to her but to one another. “You’ll notice,” they warned one another, “she hasn’t answered our question.” I realised that they were one person, or rather that both were the remains of what had once been a person. The Dwarf rattled the chain.
“You miss me?” said the Tragedian to the Lady, throwing a dreadful theatrical tremor into his voice.
“Dear friend,” said the Lady, still attending exclusively to the Dwarf, “you may be happy about that and about everything else. Forget all about it forever.”
. . . “I can’t forget it,” cried the Tragedian. “And I won’t forget it, either. I could forgive them all they’ve done to me. But for your miseries–.”
“Oh, don’t you understand?” said the Lady. “There are no miseries here.”
“Do you mean to say,” answered the Dwarf, as if this new idea had made him quite forget the Tragedian for a moment, “do you mean to say you’ve been happy?”
“Didn’t you want me to be? But no matter. Want it now. Or don’t think about it at all.”
The Dwarf blinked at her. One could see an unheard-of idea trying to enter his little mind: one could see even that there was for him some sweetness in it. For a second he had almost let the chain go: then, as if it were his life-line, he clutched it once more. “Look here,” said the Tragedian. “We’ve got to face this.” He was using his “manly” bullying tone this time: the one for bringing women to their senses.
“Darling,” said the Lady to the Dwarf, “there’s nothing to face. You don’t want me to have been miserable for misery’s sake. You only think I must have been if I loved you. But if you’ll only wait you’ll see that isn’t so.”
“Love!” said the Tragedian striking his forehead with his hand: then, a few notes deeper, “Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?”
“How should I not?” said the Lady. “I am in love. In love, do you understand? Yes, now I love truly.”
“You mean,” said the Tragedian, “you mean–you did not love me truly in the old days.”
“Only in a poor sort of way,” she answered. “I have asked you to forgive me. There was a little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you.”
“And now!” said the Tragedian with a hackneyed gesture of despair. “Now, you need me no more?”
“But of course not!” said the Lady; and her smile made me wonder how both the phantoms could refrain from crying out with joy. “What needs could I have,” she said, “now that I have all? I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly.”
But the Tragedian was still striking attitudes. “She needs me no more–no more. No more,” he said in a choking voice to no one in particular.
. . . “Frank! Frank!” she cried in a voice that made the whole wood ring. “Look at me. Look at me. What are you doing with that great, ugly doll? Let go of the chain. Send it away. It is you I want. Don’t you see what nonsense it’s talking.”
. . . I do not know that I ever saw anything more terrible than the struggle of that Dwarf Ghost against joy. For he had almost been overcome. Somewhere, incalculable ages ago, there must have been gleams of humour and reason in him. For one moment, while she looked at him in her love and mirth, he saw the absurdity of the Tragedian. . . . But the light that reached him, reached him against his will. This was not the meeting he had pictured; he would not accept it. Once more he clutched at his death-line, and at once the Tragedian spoke.
“You dare to laugh at it!” it stormed. “To my face? And this is my reward. Very well. It is fortunate that you give yourself no concern about my fate. Otherwise you might be sorry afterwards to think that you had driven me back to Hell. What? Do you think I’d stay now? Thank you. I believe I’m fairly quick at recognising when I’m not wanted. ‘Not needed’ was the exact expression, if I remember rightly.”
From this time on the Dwarf never spoke again: but still the Lady addressed it. “Dear, no one sends you back. Here is all joy. Everything bids you stay.” But the Dwarf was growing smaller even while she spoke.
“Yes,” said the Tragedian. “On terms you might offer to a dog. I happen to have some self-respect left, and I see that my going will make no difference to you. It is nothing to you that I go back to the cold and the gloom, the lonely, lonely streets–.”
“Don’t, don’t, Frank,” said the Lady. “Don’t let it talk like that.” But the Dwarf was now so small that she had dropped to her knees to speak to it. The Tragedian caught her words greedily as a dog catches a bone.
“Ah, you can’t bear to hear it!” he shouted with miserable triumph. “That was always the way. You must be sheltered. Grim realities must be kept out of your sight. You who can be happy without me, forgetting me! You don’t want even to hear of my sufferings. You say, don’t. Don’t break in on your sheltered, self-centered little heaven. And this is the reward–.”
She stooped still lower to speak to the Dwarf which was now a figure no bigger than a kitten, hanging on the end of the chain with his feet off the ground.
“That wasn’t why I said, Don’t,” she answered. “I meant, stop acting. It’s no good. He is killing you. Let go of that chain. Even now.”
“Acting,” screamed the Tragedian. “What do you mean?”
The Dwarf was now so small that I could not distinguish him from the chain to which he was clinging. And now for the first time I could not be certain whether the Lady was addressing him or the Tragedian. “Quick,” she said. “There is still time. Stop it. Stop it at once.”
“Using pity, other people’s pity, in the wrong way. We have all done it a bit on earth, you know. Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see, I know now. Even as a child you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic … because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, ‘I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.’ You used their pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end. And afterwards, when we were married … oh, it doesn’t matter, if only you will stop it.”
“And that,” said the Tragedian, “that is all you have understood of me, after all these years.” I don’t know what had become of the Dwarf Ghost by now. Perhaps it was climbing up the chain like an insect: perhaps it was somehow absorbed into the chain.
“No, Frank, not here,” said the Lady. “Listen to reason. Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenceless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed? For it was real misery. I know that now. You made yourself really wretched. That you can still do. But you can no longer communicate your wretchedness. Everything becomes more and more itself. Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light. No, no, no. Come to us. We will not go to you. Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs? Did you not know they were stronger than their opposites?”
“Love? How dare you use that sacred word?” said the Tragedian. At the same moment he gathered up the chain which had now for some time been swinging uselessly at his side, and somehow disposed of it. I am not quite sure, but I think he swallowed it. Then for the first time it became clear that the Lady saw and addressed him only.
“Where is Frank?” she said. “And who are you, Sir? I never knew you. Perhaps you had better leave me. Or stay, if you prefer. If it would help you and if it were possible I would go down with you into Hell: but you cannot bring Hell into me.”
“You do not love me,” said the Tragedian in a thin bat-like voice: and he was now very difficult to see.
“I cannot love a lie,” said the Lady. “I cannot love the thing which is not. I am in Love, and out of it I will not go.”
There was no answer. The Tragedian had vanished. The Lady was alone in that woodland place, and a brown bird went hopping past her . . . Presently the lady got up and began to walk away.
Someone else wrote about joy today. A man named William McClenathan who lost his his beautiful nursery that he’d devoted his life to. He was returning from a lawyer’s appointment feeling great sadness and then wrote this (shared with his permission):
Nov. 9, 2013 Ubiquitous Gratitude
As I drove home yesterday morning from my attorney’s offices, I was not in a mood to gather and give gratitude. My heart ached, my chest was tight, my losses eminent. I tried to see the glory of the leaves changing. I tried to figure out what I could be thankful for in that moment, honestly thankful for, not shallow, forced or gratuitous gratitude. I tried to be thankful for darker tragedies I was aware that others were going through and I was not, changing my perception by comparison. Nothing was working.
I rolled down the window allowing the crisp fall air to wash over me. the thought then occurred, “what if emotions are like air”.
This intrigued me and if nothing else assisted me in not being in a negative place. I realized two things.
1. Showing gratitude is a choice, but not just about the actual actions going on around you. We do not find joy at the negatives that occur. That would be silly. Death, sickness, physical and emotional pain, there is no thank you for these and so many other specific actions and happening that make them something we are joyful for that happens to us or others.
Rather, we find gratitude for the grace to pass through them. For what they can reveal about ourselves, for the changes they can bring. They become a catalyst allowing us to choose our next action. Now for that, we can show gratitude.
2. Gratitude (I tend to think all human emotions) is like air. It exist with or without our use of it. Emotions cover everything. And, with that thought, they are available everywhere. In the deepest sorrow, in the highest joy. They exist and are readily available to utilize to the least or greatest of our desires. But even more fantastic, science has shown us that when a mass of one people suffer, or are joyful, it can change the basics of our physiological world…collectively. Our actions individually are strong, collectively they are even more powerful.
So when you ask yourself, ‘What do I have to be thankful for”, “Why does it matter how I act”, “What is the purpose either way”?
I can say this…because like nature, we are all connected, even when we choose not to be. We walk through the same air. Breath the same emotions. And depending on how we use it all, we have tremendous effect not only on ourselves but each other, and the world.
The generally held belief we are individuals has been misleading us somewhat. Great joy is three fold. The realization of self, the realization of others, and the realization of connection. One can exist without the other. But balance is never achieved without all three. We are as bound together as the air we breath…as the emotions we share. We are bound together by gratitude which is as easy to use as the air we breath.
I’ve had a few bad moments in the last couple of weeks. Sorrows that return again and again in spite of many attempts to put them out of my life, disappointments that linger, hopes that feel dashed (“dashed?” What does that mean?), maybe it’s more accurate to say I have longings that may never be fulfilled and I’m sad about that.
My brother sent me a message last night and it was full of sorrow too. We chatted a bit this morning and I shared with him William’s idea that joy and/or gratitude is a choice we always have. It’s free. Many beautiful aspects of life are free. I wrote to my brother,
Good prevails NOW. I have been forced to realize that love has nothing to do with money or things. I’ve learned that the most beautiful gifts are free. I can look in the mirror without feeling guilty about the things I’ve done. I don’t have to keep a spreadsheet of the lies I’ve told in order to keep them straight. I can walk on the beach and watch a sunset, and fully enjoy the beauty. I can have a cup of coffee with a loved friend any time I need a good conversation. I have my amazing dogs to love. Life can be good no matter what, because joy is simply IN THE AIR and all we have to do is decide to breathe it in. Joy isn’t dependent on circumstances, which is the most important thing I’ve ever learned. The kids are in a weird circumstance because they work for their dad. He controls much of their lives, and that’s on them. For better or worse, I got OUT of his control and although Jerry rolls in money, I’m guessing he will never be able to freely breathe in joy.
That is more frank than I feel comfortable being in this blog, because maybe one or both of my kids will read this, but meh! Feeling as if I can’t be totally honest has cobbled me a bit, and I’m tired of that. As Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happend to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I struggle with money, or actually the lack of money. This has been bothering me so much lately. When I worked in the city, when I commuted downtown via rapid transit, wore awesome clothes, expensive shoes, and ate lunch at nice restaurants several times a week, I felt almost invincible. I felt like a real member of society, which was a crazy way to feel. For a while I worked for a horrible woman. Many good people were devastated by her actions. She bribed companies, used people, blackmailed some, used sex as a business tool. Oh, she was certifiably horrible! But I was drawn in to the challenge of gaining her approval. She convinced me that she chose me as one of the “best of the best,” but then broke all of her promises and used me as if I were not human, but simply a tool to use to create her own personal success. I should have quit, but I was too frightened to be without the money. I was eventually laid off. I knew it was coming because the owner of the company sold all of the buildings I was supposed to help manage. I wasn’t laid off until I’d been suitably humiliated, however. Those that ignored her unethical behavior were rewarded. Although it was good to be “let go,” I was horrified. I never really recovered from the humiliation and realized that the business world is far too cut throat for me. I am too thin skinned.
And really? I gained too much weight. I looked too old and couldn’t compete well enough in the business world. I can’t wear 5-inch heels and I look terrible in suits. I am not driven. I am not a force to be reckoned with. I am the woman who would bring cookies for the team instead, which is not a power grabbing move.
Because of my surgery costs, Chloe’s surgery costs, the car’s expensive repair costs, my chronic under employment, we are struggling. We’ve decided that we can’t afford to buy gifts for Christmas this year. I’ve struggled with this. I’ve wept about this. I have a tight throat and feel deep sadness in the pit of my stomach as I write these words. I’ve avoided writing because it’s heavy on my mind, but I didn’t want to share this. If I don’t share it, I won’t write. I want to write, so here we are. We are not buying gifts for Christmas. We have to reign in our debt and fix our lives. So…
We’ve decided to do an act of service for Christmas instead. Jim and I are probably going to visit a nursing home with packages of cookies. We’ll bring Tillie, since she’s a therapy dog. I’ll make Tillie a Christmas bandana and we’ll be family to elderly aunties and uncles on Christmas eve. We’ve asked our kids to do the same thing. Instead of giving us gifts, because I know money is tight for everyone, we’ve asked if they’d also do some kind of act of service and share what they did with us when we get together to celebrate the day. Most everyone is on board. One relative didn’t reply at all. One was on a conference call and couldn’t reply, but said yes and he loves me, but I haven’t heard anything from him since. I’m trying to be positive about it, but I’m also sad. I struggle with feelings of failure and loss. But then I read what William wrote today, and I felt a bit of hope.
When I asked William for permission to share what he wrote, he replied, “Thank you again. It is done only as an aid to my fellow humans. We all suffer. If my choices can inspire others and allow them to face hardships and be able to pass through them more quickly without bitterness, self loathing and anger…that is what is most important. We humans…we choose to see our differences so much more often than our similarities. I am about inclusion, not exclusion…because by watching others I can learn from them, both the good and the bad. By bettering myself, I can assist in bettering others. It a very old song but clearly one that needs repeated over and over as it seems so quickly forgotten in each generation.”
I agree. That’s why I write. This is exactly why I write. That’s why I am an unpublished, but very eager writer. It’s also why artists create art. It’s why poets write moving poetry, comedians try to make us laugh, and songwriters create songs. Blah blah blah. You get it, right? I want to find our similarities, our connections. This is why my dear friend SallyAnne and I agreed over our weekly Monday morning coffee date that political rancor is doing us both in and we have (for the most part) stopped participating in the never ending war. For instance, I ignore my brother Ralph’s Facebook ravings about the constitution hating liberals and click LIKE on the photos of his beautiful grandkids. He’s a good guy and I’m choosing inclusion these days.
We do all suffer. It’s very true. I think back to what C.S. Lewis wrote: Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light. No, no, no. Come to us. We will not go to you. Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs? Did you not know they were stronger than their opposites?”