From Imdb, the storyline:
‘C.S. Lewis, a world-renowned Christian theologian, writer, and professor, leads a passionless life until he meets a spirited poet from the U.S.
C.S. Lewis is the author of the “Chronicles of Narnia” books. Known as Jack, he teaches at Oxford during the 1950s. An American fan, Joy Gresham, arrives to meet him for tea in Oxford. It is the beginning of a love affair. Tragically, Joy becomes terminally ill and their lives become complicated.’
On a wall in Jack’s house is a surrealistic (as I could make out) painting of an emerald green valley in front of low mountains, with billowing peach-edged white clouds behind them that had hung in his bedroom as a child. When Joy had asked him about it, he said he’d always imagined that it was the place where Magic lived, as he’d said about Narnia earlier to some poncy Oxford dons who’d mocked his books.
Now the line from the title was one that Jack had said to Joy, and one would think that by ‘truest’ he’d meant most honest, authentic, and straightforward. Nothing insincere came out of her mouth, and while he’d long surrounded himself with people he was able to best in arguments, he grew to admire the many challenges Joy threw his way. He seemed awed as well by her seeming to know him better than he knew himself, and she admitted to having read everything he’d ever written. We can also imagine that she’d read between the lines.
One of my favorite scenes was at a party for the dean of his college at Oxford he’d invited Joy to attend with him early in their friendship. A different scene starts at 5:11. In essence, for those who can’t watch or listen:
Jack: I thought you didn’t believe we have souls, Christopher.
The Don: ‘well, yes; I regard the soul as an essentially feminine accessory. Where men have intellect, women have…souls.
Joy: As you say, Professor Riley, I’m from the United States, and different cultures have different modes of discourse. I’m looking for guidance her: are you trying to be offensive, or merely stupid?
Horrors! An uppity woman, and from the US to boot! She must have known the ultimate secret of being direct, which is to not give a rap what a person thinks of you, especially one you don’t respect. As a side note, I wish I had that down to an art, myself, as sometimes my judgmental blurts come back to accuse me by way of my internal dialogue. Yes, I try to shut it off, but my success with that is only temporary.
As for the title of the play and the two film versions (1993 and 1985), Jack had said of ‘the Shadowlands’: “It’s one of my stories. We live in the Shadowlands. The sun is always shining somewhere else. Round a bend in the road. Over the bough of a hill.”
Some critics’ reviews I’d read posited that what he’d meant was that Death, or perhaps the afterlife, is where the sun is always shining, perhaps the only place that it can always shine. I’m agnostic, but in the 1985 version, it went this way:
After they were married, Joy (a Jewish, communist, atheist poet) suggested that they take a belated honeymoon to see it, as he said it was likely only a day’s drive to the north away. When at last they found it, rather by trial and error, they were both enchanted by the spot, and both seemed to feel its magical, perhaps cosmic, qualities. Jack and Joy heard rumbles of thunder and look skyward to see that black storm clouds were gathering and moving rapidly toward them.
They ran as best they were able with Joy using a cane, and found shelter under a farmer’s lean-to, but hadn’t escaped a bit of a soaking.
Joy: We almost made it.
Jack: Now I don’t want to be somewhere else anymore. Not waiting for anything new to happen. Not looking around the next corner, not the next hill. Here now. That’s enough.
Joy: That’s your kind of happy, isn’t it?
Jack: Yes. Yes it is.
Joy: It is not going to last, Jack.
Jack: We shouldn’t think about that now. Lets’ not spoil the time we have together.
Joy: It doesn’t spoil it. It makes it real. Let me just say it before this rain stops, and we go back.
Jack: What’s there to say?
Joy: That I’m going to die and I want to go with you then, too. The only way I can do that is if I’m able to talk to you about it now.
Jack: I’ll manage somehow. Don’t worry about me.
Joy: No, I think it can be better than just managing. What I am trying to say is that the pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.
…All of which causes me to believe that Joy knew in her heart, soul, and spirit, that not only is death an integral part of life that we need not only to internalize, but to be willing to discuss our deaths out of fear of suffering in the present. And further, that she passionately wanted them both to jump to the final Kubler-Ross stage of grief: acceptance, or even ‘pre-grieving’, which might make the now…even sweeter.
How many doctors are totally unwilling, for instance, to tell the terminally ill that they’re going to die? We hear of it constantly, and know them for the cowards they are for not having come to terms with their own mortalities. Come to think of it, why isn’t it lauded in the Amerikan ‘culture’ as a major rite of passage when a child first grasps the idea of death, and celebrated?
On the subject of suffering, during Jack’s lectures he was often asked why God allows suffering. His various comments over the film were these:
“Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
“I suggest to you that it is because God loves us that he makes us the gift of suffering. Pain is Gods megaphone to rouse a deaf world. You see we are like blocks of stone out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel which hurt us so much with are what make us perfect.”
He eventually got to this evolution of the answer, perhaps due to his burgeoning recognition that he truly was beginning to allow himself to love Joy, his first love since his mama.
“Isn’t God supposed to be good? Isn’t God supposed to love us? And does God want us to suffer? What if the answer to that question is yes? ’Cause I’m not sure that God particularly wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to be able to love and be loved. He wants us to grow up. I suggest to you that it is because God loves us that he makes us the gift of suffering.”
But it got me to considering that even if one leaves God out of the mix, our own suffering, or the suffering of our loved ones and chosen families often causes our hearts to open in empathy. Here I’m even including those of us who’ve lived some portions of our lives trying to be authentic, self-actualized (no, not an appealing term) after working through stifling pain, humiliation laden upon them through authoritarian bullying, guilt-tripping, domestic rape, and so forth, so that we actually are able to jettison much of the emotional baggage that blocks their hearts from sensation…as a defense…and heal. In other words, to return to the metaphorical state of grace that many social scientists claim we are born in, and specifically, that humans are hard-wired for empathy.
I’m not sure that having watched videos of experiments featuring three-year-old children loving to ‘help’ others offered proof that it’s so, but I’d like to believe it.
I’d also like to believe that in normal circumstances, babies are born with consciences, and that only living in abusive, soul-stealing circumstances that consciences are destroyed. Many religious authoritarians believe the opposite, of course, and are utterly convinced that children are born as empty slates, and must be taught to know right from wrong, although my experience is that sort of ‘education’ is more often about sticks than carrots, or indeed even explaining and allowing the natural consequences of ‘unhealthy’, or counter-productive behaviors. But that’s a longer subject, isn’t it? And I digress.
Consider though, the many ways that our responses to witnessing our fellow human brothers’ and sisters’ suffering can take. In Spanish, we experience corazon espinado, or pierced heart. If we’ve ever been hungry, or even had to live on cornmeal or rice, say, for some extended period, we want to feed those who are hungry once we have enough to share. If we’ve witnessed the suffering that war beings to the innocent, we want to end war. If we’ve witnessed even second hand what walls and being second- or third-class citizens means, we’re in solidarity with those human beings, and care that their suffering stops. Often our caring causes us to be angry, even furious, resulting in activism of some sort, to Occupy, to protest (and no, I’m not thinking of Pink Pussy Hat protests), to try to build toward a better future for all of us. Yeppers, I hear Arthur Silber saying that that’s the biggest con of all, so I am smiling as I type. But Arthur, what else are people of good conscience going to do with their lives otherwise, if not be in defense of and service to one another as we’re able?
But I suppose my larger point is that love, empathy, and our past suffering can make us ‘be brave’ on behalf of those we love, respect, and care about, if only one by one…by one. Joy loved Jack, and somehow feeling it, sensing it, it opened his heart. Oddly enough, one form her love took was to respect him enough to call him on his bullshit and intellectual authoritarianism – and that provided a key that opened some closed door in him. He watched her parent her child well, feeding his insatiable curiosity with literature, love, humor, and utter respect…and it changed Jack.
One recent form of bravery with its roots in love, as well as life suffering came from another story, this from the Game of Throne series we’re watching on DVD. Daenerys, Mother of Dragons is missing due to her part in the wars over ending the slave Kingdoms around the Bay of Slavery. Her key advisor Tyrion the dwarf (my favorite character) knows that she’ll need the remaining two dragons locked in the cellars of the castle. He’d just been advised that they won’t eat, and Tyrion divines that since they’re shackled, there is no way for them to thrive. How does he know this, he’s asked? He answers:
“I do two things. I drink, and I know things“.
He not only loves Daenerys, but is tuned into the dragon’s suffering, and is determined to help them, bless his heart. Bravery isn’t about fearlessness, but acting in spite of fear, of course.