Whenever I engage deeply in memory, I am reminded of CS. Lewis’s comments about the poet Wordsworth and the illusions of remembering and the purpose of longing:
“If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.”
That selection is found in a larger passage below, it’s well worth reading and holding in check as we all wrestle with the tension between memory and the moment.
We can often lose sight of the gift of the present in our longing for something in the past. My intentions of late in my remembrances are not to cast dissatisfaction or disillusionment over the present for anyone.
My hope in conjuring, is to reawaken the commitment to the values and practices that provided the context for our experiences.
There is always a limit to the experience, which is meant to connect us to it’s ultimate reality or source. Our pleasures are not intended to be mirages but markers to another country as Lewis often put it. That isn’t a sourpuss way to denigrate the joy of the moment but to connect it to the anticipation of more. Which is another way of saying, this isn’t all there is, it is good, but there is so much more good, to come. It is a treasure of a greater treasure.
That idea is at the heart of celebration not degradation. We always need to be careful that we do not steal the good, beautiful and true from the gift before us, even when we might contemplate the gifts beyond us.
The root of life is glorious even through it’s eternal bloom will far exceed its present bounty.
C.S. Lewis in ‘The Weight of Glory’:
“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.
We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter.
Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.
These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. 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 visited.”
“Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.“