Letters to an American Lady
(c) 1967 C.S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper
I was pleased recently to discover that Letters to an American Lady, a collection of letters from C.S. Lewis written to an anonymous southern woman in the 1950s and 1960s, was on sale. None of the letters are especially long; most, in fact, are nothing more than a paragraph dashed in haste, as Lewis was increasingly popular at the time and beset with bags of mail, especially around Christmas and Easter. Readers are only privileged to see one side of the conversation, though Lewis usually refers directly to the contents of the lady’s — “Mary’s — letters in his own, so some context can usually be discerned. Those who are familiar with Lewis’ prose and nonfiction will find a different Jack here, one who is merely writing to a friend on the ordinary events of life. Jack and Mary talk about their cats, and commiserate over the bad weather or their respective health problems: Lewis likens them to failing automobiles, who after decades of service continually need their parts replaced. For Lewis, though, the letters were also something of a ministry: matters of spirituality are a mainstay in the letters to Mary, as they were in Lewis’ letters to Dorothy Sayers, though Lewis appears to provide more succor to Mary than the other way around. His letters to her no doubt helped him remind himself of that which he already knew: he frequently encourages Mary to not compound the problems of life by worrying over them incessantly, but instead take things one day at a time and live in the present as much as possible. He even references Marcus Aurelius, though sadly not in this context: the Stoic emperor-philosopher reminded himself of that same lessons in his Meditations. Also included in this collection are one letter written to Mary by Joy Davidman, who reflected on the grace she’d experienced in her own infirmity, and some (in ’63) written to her from Walter Hooper, Lewis’ late secretary who had the unenviable responsibility of keeping Mary up to date on Lewis’ declining health as he entered into a coma in late summer ’63. As someone who regards Lewis not merely as an author, but as a strange kind of friend — someone I’ve “gotten to know” through his letters, books, etc — this was a welcome look into Lewis’ less academic side, and one which was especially moving as he entered, unknowingly, the last few months of his life and did so counseling Mary on how to face her own death with grace and dignity.
“The precious alabaster box which one must break over the Holy Feet is one’s heart. Easier said than done.”
“The only reason I’m not sick of all the stuff about——is that I don’t read it. I never read the papers. Why does anyone? They’re nearly all lies, and one has to wade thru’ such reams of verbiage and “write up” to find out even what they’re saying.”
“We are all members of one another and must all learn to receive as well as to give.”
“The great thing, as you have obviously seen, (both as regards pain and financial worries) is to live from day to day and hour to hour not adding the past or future to the present. As one lived in the Front Line ‘They’re not shelling us at the moment, and it’s not raining, and the rations have come up, so let’s enjoy ourselves”. In fact, as Our Lord said, ‘Sufficient unto the day'”