The Return to School: A Preparation for Death

This Monday marks my return to school. I love teaching, but I distinctly remember when, in the summer before entering 4th grade, I was lying in a hammock at my aunt’s house on the coast. The warm sea breeze and the *sense* of total freedom made it all the more painful to reflect that in three short weeks, I would be 600 miles north in one of those tortuous school desks. Can a child get a taste of nihilistic despair? I abandoned all hope of future happiness, and could no longer enjoy even the three weeks still left to me. All the sorrows of a Sunday were drawn out for twenty one days. That was twenty years ago, but the dread of returning never disappears. So, although this has nothing to do with antiquity, I am posting my favorite passage from C.S. Lewis. Here’s to next summer!

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy:

“So much for Oldie’s; but the year was not all term. Life at a vile boarding-school is in this way a good preparation for the Christian life, that it teaches one to five by hope. Even, in a sense, by faith; for at the beginning of each term, home and the holidays are so far off that it is as hard to realise them as to realise heaven. They have the same pitiful unreality when confronted with immediate horrors. To-morrow’s geometry blots out the distant end of term as to-morrow’s operation may blot out the hope of Paradise. And yet, term after term, the unbelievable happened. Fantastical and astronomical figures like “This time six weeks” shrank into practicable figures like “This time next week”, and then “This time to-morrow”, and the almost supernatural bliss of the Last Day punctually appeared. It was a delight that almost demanded to be stayed with flagons and comforted with apples; a delight that tingled down the spine and troubled the belly and at moments went near to stopping the breath. Of course this had a terrible and equally relevant reverse side. In the first week of the holidays we might acknowledge that term would come again–as a young man, in peace time, in full health, acknowledges that he will one day die. But like him we could not even by the grimmest memento mori be brought to realise it. And there too, each time, the unbelievable happened. The grinning skull finally peered through all disguises; the last hour, held at bay by every device our will and imaginations knew, came in the end, and once more it was the bowler-hat, the Eton collar, the knickerbockers, and (clop-clop-clop-clop) the evening drive to the quay. In all seriousness I think that the life of faith is easier to me because of these memories. To think, in sunny and confident times, that I shall die and rot, or to think that one day all this universe will slip away and become memory (as Oldie slipped away into memory three times a year, and with him the canes and the disgusting food, the stinking sanitation and the cold beds)–this is easier to us if we have seen just that sort of thing happening before. We have learned not to take present things at their face value.”

Still Life - Infinite Vanitas by Kevin Best, 2011. Digital art.As you might imagine, I look at a lot of art. On a normal day, I usually reject about three pieces for every one I post. One of the problems I often have when posting to this blog...
Infinite Vanitas by Kevin Best

One thought on “The Return to School: A Preparation for Death

  1. Reblogged this on Jennifer Macaire and commented:
    Today is the last day of my short summer vacation. And like the author of this article, I couldn’t shake the feeling that soon I’d be back at work. And even though I enjoy my job, I can still remember the despair and frustration of knowing that summer was ending, school was going to start, and that soon I’d be sitting at my desk watching out the window as the rainy season piled clouds against the horizon, and listening to rain batter the tin roof – as my teachers tried to cram geometry and history lessons into my head. So here’s the the end of summer. Here’s to the melancholy that is autumn. And if you like YA fiction, here is one that distills the end of summer.

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