A passage from A Severe Mercy, A Story of Faith, Tragedy, and Triumph by Sheldon Vanauken. The whole book, sentence sentence, is beautifully written. It’s the true story of the correspondence between CS Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken, men who exchanged letters as they lost their wives to terminal illness. Here’s one passage that I thought our readers might be interested in.
He had been wont to despise emotions: girls were emotional, girls were weak, emotions—tears—were weakness. But this morning he was thinking that being a great brain in a tower, nothing but a brain, wouldn’t be much fun. No excitement, no dog to love, no joy in the blue sky—no feelings at all. But feelings—feelings are emotions! He was suddenly overwhelmed by the revelation that what makes life worth living is, precisely, the emotions. But, then—this was awful!—maybe girls with their tears and laughter were getting more out of life. Shattering! He checked himself: showing one’s emotions was not the thing: having them was. Still, he was dizzy with the revelation. What is beauty but something that is responded to with emotion? Courage, at least partly, is emotional. All the splendour of life. But if the best of life is, in fact, emotional, then one wanted the highest, purest emotions: and that meant joy. Joy was the highest. How did one find joy? In books it seemed to be found in love—a great love—though maybe for the saints there was joy in the love of God. He didn’t aspire to that, though; he didn’t even believe in God. Certainly not! So, if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have, if he could find it, a great love. But in the books again, great joy through love seemed always to go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still, the joy would be worth the pain—if, indeed, they went together. If there were a choice—and he suspected there was—a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he, for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths.