Friday, January 21, 2011

"Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made..."

I just posted Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address, which came thirty years ago today. And it is a marvelous, moving, inspirational speech. At one point, told a story of one young American who had gone off to fight - and die - in the first World War, and he had trouble getting through it.
Martin Treptow ... left his job in a small town barber shop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the western front, he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy artillery fire. We are told that on his body was found a diary. On the flyleaf under the heading, "My Pledge," he had written these words: "America must win this war. Therefore, I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone."
I had trouble getting through it too, in part because it recalls to me one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite books, and I'm reminded that C. S. Lewis also fought in the trenches during the first world war:
Did Maleldil want to lose worlds? What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend on such a man of straw as himself? And at that moment, far away on Earth, as he now could not help remembering, men were at war, and white-faced subalterns and freckled corporals who had but lately begun to shave, stood in horrible gaps or crawled forward in deadly darkness, awaking, like him, to the preposterous truth that all really depended on their actions; and far away in time Horatius stood on the bridge, and Constantine settled in his mind whether he would or would not embrace the new religion, and Eve herself stood looking upon the forbidden fruit and the Heaven of Heavens waited for her decision. He writhed and ground his teeth, but could not help seeing. Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made. Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices. And if something, who could set bounds to it? A stone may determine the course of a river.
The first and third books of Lewis' space trilogy are wonderful, but Perelandra, the middle one, is the one that stands out for me.

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