I’m writing this on the bed of C.S. Lewis, in his second floor room in his beautiful home—The Kilns—just outside of Oxford. There’s a little brick fireplace in the room, a creaky wood floor, and an adjacent study where he did a lot of writing after his wife Joy died.
It’s a ghostly little room, haunted by the absence of a legendary literary hero as well as the curious visage of what looks like a photo of the shroud of Turin, hanging above the fireplace mantle. The curtains are brown burlap and the walls are painted bluish gray. Outside the gardens are thriving and green, with hydrangeas and begonias and apple and pear trees enjoying their early summer growth spurts. Down the path there is a hidden pond, sodden with algae and leaves. I went hiking back there tonight, after dinner. I climbed to the top of Shotover Hill, on a muddy, well-worn path that Lewis himself took many an evening. That Lewis had trod on these very paths and slept under this very roof was indeed an inspiring thing, but more than Lewis himself (or his writings or his legacy), these things brought to mind a longing for something other and separate and elsewhere. Fitting, I suppose, as this is an idea Lewis frequently explored.
In The Weight of Glory, Lewis wrote this:
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust in them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing… For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
This house is not the thing itself, and yet through it comes so much. It’s more than just Lewis for me. It’s a stream of memories of the weeks I’ve spent in Oxford in summer past, with amazing people I might not ever see again. It’s the smell of the rain and the bright green trees and all the memories of grasses and habitats I’ve had occasion to roll around in over the years. It’s listening to Debussy on damp blankets under the stars at Tanglewood one summer in the Berkshires. It’s the echo of a tune that I have not yet heard.
It’s beautiful, and I’m so blessed to be here.