C.S. Lewis turns 114 today. He had some things to say about growing old. On one occasion in his letters, he cites Dante and his description of the lost souls as looking entirely to their past, what they did and didn’t do, while the redeemed weren’t concerned about what went before.
The reference to Dante was in a letter from 1961, so Lewis was older and he suggests that it’s difficult to look ahead because of the volume of time that sat behind him. “But we must try very hard to keep endlessly chewing the cud,” he says. “We must look forward more eagerly to sloughing that old skin off forever.” (Collected Letters)
In The Screwtape Letters, the devils talk about the laborious task for humans to persevere, especially middle age (but the dangers are applicable to any point of life):
The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives, and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it – all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition. If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it,” while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home on Earth, which is just what we want.
And then this, “You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.”
We all fear, some greater than others, the unknowns of our future, and, ultimately, our death. We we can learn through Lewis what is the practice of Scripture. That is, the sting of death is deadened in the confident hope of resurrection.
Our years of life should be proof that we are working until the last breath and our wrinkles as the, “honorable insignia of long service in this warfare,” Lewis says.
Though our years might 64 or 114, the point is still the point. “The great thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years” (God in the Dock). The Christian knows that time is temporal and God will not always force himself to be vulnerable to a clock because none of us is merely mortal and birthdays mean little with resurrection.
Happy Birthday C.S. Lewis. You continue to inspire and move us toward the focal point of your life, the salvific work of Jesus and his ask for us to follow him.