I was only ten years old when Lewis, then 64, died at his home outside Oxford in November of 1963, the same day and just an hour before President Kennedy was killed by a sniper’s bullet in Dallas, Texas. On a sabbatical trip to Oxford in the summer of 2002, my appreciation for Lewis’s life story and the legacy of his published works greatly intensified.
During my stay in Oxford, I had an opportunity to visit some of Lewis’s favorite places, from pubs such as the Eagle and Child and the Trout on the River Thames to Addison’s Walk behind Magdalen College, the Bodlien Library, and the University Church. Oxford is a beautiful and captivating city. The cloistered colleges of medieval style buildings, are adorned with gargoyles and spires, cobblestone walks and vast green courtyards trimmed to perfection.
But the place where I most felt Jack’s unique spirit, was at his home four miles east of Oxford in Headington Quarry, known as “the Kilns” where he lived from 1930, until his death in 1963. Going through the house was nothing less than a spiritual experience for me. At one point in the tour, I had a few minutes alone in Lewis’s bedroom and was taken by a black and white photograph of him that hangs over a fireplace. I remember looking at him in that photo, quill pen in his right hand and cigarette in his left, and feeling the spirit and person of Jack Lewis taking greater intensity in that moment, as if a window through time was open. I was able to photograph the picture at close range with my camera. In the picture, you can see a dim reflection of the left side of my face which was caught by the light on the glass frame of the photograph, like a mirror (just above his hand). The picture is something that I will treasure because it captures an encounter, albeit in two separate dimensions of space and time, that I’ll never forget. I am sure countless pilgrims to Oxford and “the Kilns” have shared similar experiences.
Today, November 22, 2013, is a powerful day of remembrance of two iconic figures who continue to fire our intellect and imagination toward higher aspirations of faith, compassion, and service to the world. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
P.S. The New York Times reports that C.S. Lewis will receive the honor of a memorial stone in the floor of Poets’ Corner, a portion of Westminster Abbey’s South Transept commemorating today’s anniversary.