After a Zoom conversation last week, a friend emailed me a link to a video about the importance of not postponing life until “a better time” rolls around. My friend has led many wilderness programs and trainings in Ukraine, and he is very concerned about his friends there. He was inspired by this 16-minute video by the English poet Malcolm Guite. Bearded, surrounded by well-read books, smoking a pipe and drinking tea as he talks, Guite looks like a character out of Tolkien or Dickens. He is an engaging raconteur. And he has found something very pertinent to share, a talk that theologian and thinker C.S. Lewis gave to students at Oxford University in December 1939.
As German tanks roll through Europe, Lewis begins, we ask ourselves, how we can continue to pursue our “placid occupations when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance?”
The parallels to the current crisis in Ukraine are stunning, Guite comments. He then goes on to read at length from Lewis’s talk. One section in particular is relevant at any time, whether we are dealing with war, sickness, death, climate change, or any other crisis.
“Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice…. If [people] had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with ‘normal life’. Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right.
“But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. [Humans] propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss, the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.”
It is for exactly this reason that Radical Joy for Hard Times insists: No matter what is happening in your life or in the world, it is always possible to find and make beauty. The time is urgent. Always. Make beauty today—for your friend, for Ukraine, for the dead tree in your yard, for the boss who drives you crazy. Make beauty.