Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
–Wallace Stevens, from “Sunday Morning”
That’s what we all find when we reach this country. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living.–C. S. Lewis, from The Great Divorce
Easter morning. I am reading C. S. Lewis and thinking of Wallace Stevens, but for me it is white peony tea in a sunny chair, and there is a chinchilla instead of a cockatoo, and she is in her cage, because when I let her out yesterday she ate money. A little freedom is a dangerous thing.
The sun slants into my room, touching the back of my head and my knees, a benediction. The tea is golden as sunshine in a white cup, steaming softly. I am the woman in Stevens’s poem, and I am reading C. S. Lewis. Because I am the peignoir woman (though living in post-peignoir days), Lewis sometimes makes me cranky, and sometimes downright testy. And sometimes, he astonishes me with delight. Surprised by joy, I suppose. In any case, reading him is never dull.
I am spending the year with C. S. Lewis–well, bits of it, anyway, slowly reading my way through A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. I am not so good at the “daily” bit. I forget, distracted by the cockatoos of life, and then play catchup days later. The quote above wasn’t from today’s reading, but it got read today. And this one struck me with the force of its peculiar loveliness and humor and truth.
We’ve all been wrong. We cannot know what’s next, none of us. We can hope, believe, doubt, criticize, fear–but we cannot know, none of us. None of us have traveled to that undiscovered country. We like to act like we know. Faith, doubt, and fear are all a kind of playing at knowing. So many people are so certain, or at least they talk that way. God is real, true, everything. God is dead. There is no God. Nothing comes after, or everything does. Me, I come down on the side of fear. I’m terrified when I gaze, spellbound, into the abyss. I’m afraid because I am a creature comforted and enchanted by knowing, and this I can’t know. But my fear itself, I realize in a sudden flash of insight, is also a kind of playing-at-knowing. If I am afraid, it is because some part of me has convinced the rest that there is something terrifying to know.
So these are my thoughts on Easter morning, scattered and half-formed as they are. There is not much I know, but there is a small handful of things:
-after a winterlong battle with anxiety, I have clawed my way back from the depths, at least for now
-on Friday, the woods behind my house were a garble of stark-sere branches; on Saturday, a thin haze of spring-gold green appeared, quiet as unshod footsteps
-chinchillas eat money
There are many more things that I suspect, and a handful of them are these:
-my grandfather has gone somewhere; that much life and fire and wonder could not disappear (conservation of energy?)
-things are moving in this world, just at the corner of my vision where I can’t fix my eyes on them (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle?)
-there is something inherently amusing about the phrase “uncertainty principle” (irony? paradox?)
But perhaps it is most important what I hope, and it is this–that winter does not last forever, that we are here to love each other, and that when we die to this world, it will be to emerge, butterfly-like, into some far-distant country where we will look around us in amazement, and laugh at ourselves, and then begin to live.