December 7, 1941… September 11, 2001… and today, November 22, 1963 are all dates that for most of you reading this blog entry will have some resonance and impact.
For those alive at the time, and for any student of American history, the Pearl Harbor attack came as literally a bolt from the blue. The afternoon’s radio broadcasts interrupted by the announcer.. and the world had changed and millions of lives would be uprooted or, indeed, cut short.
Another bright blue sky, in the morning, and then we heard ( and now could see) in real time the incredible disintegration of the World Trade Towers and the simultaneous death of thousands there, the Pentagon, and in a rural field in Pennsylvania. It was the Pearl Harbor of our times.
And forty-eight years ago on this date for me, a seventh-grader at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Lindenhurst, with another bright, clear, crisp autumn day came the news of gunshots in Dallas, and the first presidential assassination since McKinley in 1901. None of us who were alive and aware can probably forget the sights and the sounds, and the words we learned over that stunning weekend: “cortege…muffled drums…riderless horse…Eternal Flame…”. President John F. Kennedy’s name still lives on in the names of airports, schools, and parks.
These are all dates that an historian has called “mythogenic”: they create an immediate memory of where we were when we first got the news, how the day felt and looked, and so often, stories real or fabled about the day’s events.
Another event occurred on November 22, 1963 that passed unnoticed at the time. An Anglican layman, classic scholar, writer, and commentator named Clive Stapleton Lewis died of natural causes. His death was mentioned, if at all, way back in the pages of the weekend’s papers, and he was buried in an English churchyard on Monday, November 25th: the same day the world was watching the State Funeral in Washington DC. Yet, the man universally known as C.S. Lewis has probably touched more minds and souls for Christ than anyone in the first half of the Twentieth Century, other than perhaps Bishop Fulton Sheen, Billy Graham, or Popes Pius XII and John XXIII.
I still return with pleasure and awe at the spiritual and psychological insights of The Screwtape Letters, the brisk logic and perception of God in the Dock and Mere Christianity, and so many other works of apologetics, theology, and spiritual fable such as The Chronicles of Narnia.
I offer a prayer for him today, that even though he could not in his lifetime come into what Cardinal Newman said was “from shadows into light” and enter the Catholic Church, that now he rejoices with all those others in God’s Kingdom whom he helped to enter by his writings.