While thinking of leaders that inspire me, I immediately thought of many popular ones- Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela... the current leaders that have a great deal of well deserved good press. When I caught my thoughts, I laughed that I had thought of only well known and popular leaders... and then an image of Tiger Woods flew into my head and I started to giggle- I think that he left his 'moral compass' a few times in a hotel room. :D I decided that I really needed to step back and instead of just looking for someone in a 'leadership position' that inspired me, I needed to think about the values and principles that inspire me and then take the time to think about specific individuals. During this mindful process, only one name really came to mind. For this exploration into my leadership skills and values, I wish to explore and examine the life story and values of C.S. Lewis.
Once the image of this person entered my mind, I will admit I couldn't imagine using anyone else. C.S. Lewis had been a part of my life through his written works- from the age of eight when I began devouring the 'Chronicles of Narnia' and really building an understanding of my world... to my current life experiences where I am studying and discovering ways to understand the current fear and grief that I feel in my life by studying his work 'A Grief Observed.' The more I learn about him and his life story, the more opportunities that I have found to really look at myself and how I view the world. I agree very untruth to state that in many ways over the years, his writings have shaped my thoughts and beliefs. (That said, Mr. Lewis says almost nothing that doesn't agree or fit in with the religion I grew up with... so where that religious training and his (Lewis) influence begins and ends... I cannot really be sure.) This assignment seemed like an excellent excuse to study more about C.S. Lewis... and about myself. I intend to discuss parts of his life story and values and then describe how and what they mean to me and what I have learned from him and his story.
Mr. Lewis didn't have a idyllic childhood and he had a bit of difficulty with trials when he was growing up. He was close to his mother who died of cancer when he was nine years old. His father then immediately sent him to an English boarding school that he hated. This was a struggle for him especially as a young child to basically lose both of his parents- his mom to death and his father to distance, broken trust, and anger. While my experience was different in the physical details, many of the emotional details are similar. Both of my parents are still alive, but in many ways they might as well be deceased. I was born to deeply religious parents and I am the oldest of five children. Things were never very good in my childhood memory as my mother was always frantic, angry and things I cannot adequately describe. For six months when I was twelve, my childhood was good... or at least calmer and different. My mother was diagnosed with XXXXXXXXXX and was on heavy tranquilizers for that time (I know the diagnosis from the whispers- I can not swear it's correct. This was a time when lots of stuff had that particular label) She was kind and she smiled a lot and I only remember feeling fairly safe and sort of hopeful. When it comes to my family I have not felt that since that brief period of time. After six months, my mother decided there was nothing wrong with her, stopped the meds and has continued on an angry, manipulative, controlling manic path ever since. My father appears to have avoided the house and the family like the plague and so I felt trapped, angry, sorrowful, and I learned to hide, push back, and struggle on my own. I learned to lie, and do what ever it took to survive- within reason as I never tried prostitution- I think that requires a level of confidence and trust and a little more self disgust than I actually have. :) In many ways, C.S. Lewis took the right path- he believed in himself and found it acceptable to question everything. It didn't hurt to question, it didn't make him feel weak to question... he used it to build himself up, to improve his mind and confidence in his abilities and understanding of life and himself. What I can learn from him is that you can allow yourself to grow from adversity, you can be successful and a good person no matter what the trials of your childhood. He was able to build a relationship with his father over time that wasn't perfect, but was 'good'. That took risk, tolerance and an understanding of himself and human nature that wasn't his alone. I can have that gift too- I just need to want it, to actively work towards it, and to cut myself some slack when I stumble... because if I don't, I will continue to be unwilling to take risks and will only continue to be scared, confused, and closed up. Listening and reading about his early years inspires me to try and rework my story and to discover the good depths inside my early life, even if it is only the understanding of it and the hope for better and the drive to find joy now... and to give joy to others.
When C.S. Lewis was a young man, he studied and discovered his Christian faith. Because of his intense and questioning journey to faith, his faith became quite strong and became a part of everything he did. His faith infused all aspects of his life, including his quiet works of charity, his writing and his married life. I admire his intense struggle to find faith as many people do not or are not able to struggle enough to find this. I admire his openness about his beliefs and his religion- his 'no fear' attitude about sharing it with not only close friends, but anyone. As I have looked at his example and been able to really explore and learn about my faith, I have become braver about expressing my faith in ways I didn't feel comfortable doing before. An example is that I feel comfortable telling people the truth about why I do not drink alcohol now - that it's against my religion- and not just try to deflect the question or attempt to make sure I am never in a situation in which the question might come up... or even pretend to drink some so that I look like everyone else. His example has helped me to feel more motivated to learn about my faith so that not only do I understand what I believe in, but I feel more secure and confident in living what I believe. Both Lewis and myself believed in charity and service and that is an aspect of my life that is very important to me. While Lewis usually gave money and gave about 50% of all of his book profits to charity, I will admit that I tend to give 'sweat'... as I do not have a lot of money. I volunteer for the local animal shelter once a month, the local food bank twice a week, and I help people who ask for it during other times, including free babysitting, church volunteer work, and rides and shopping for people who are in need. This is a very important aspect of my life and I think that I wouldn't be a very good person without these opportunities. I learn so much about other people and I gain access to information and understanding that you cannot just get from a book or from chatting with someone. Service is something that feels good and feels even better if people do not know about it... it becomes a pearl of joy and a smile in my heart. So while I cannot give in the same way that he did, I have discovered that I can give... and I do have lots to give! I have learned more about my faith, gained understanding of other human beings and tolerance in general. I have also learned an important lesson from him in that when he taught about Christian ideas, C.S. Lewis stayed with very basic doctrines and didn't get political or so specific that people could feel angry or offended or left out. I think that this is a really important concept and few people are able or have been able to accomplish this when discussing divisive topics. He was able to work to bring people together in faith... and not just become another individual whose works divide and hurt people. Learning from him- even though he is not of my particular sect- has made my journey more fruitful, gives me ways to understand others and an example of how to work with people better; to find the common ground with others and to work from there. Even in as divisive a topic as Christianity and religion, he was able to do this... so there is no reason that I cannot. I just need to keep working on the idea and how I approach and see others in body language and in speech.
It probably comes as no surprise to many that C.S. Lewis was a prolific writer. However, while he wrote Christian apologist works, he wrote pieces and books that were successful in many different genres. (Some of his popular books actually started out as speeches that he gave.) However, his dream was to write poetry and that was how he started his writing career. His poetry was not popular and few people read it today. However, he didn't allow the disappointment of his career in poetry to hold him down. As he also liked writing, he dabbled his hand in that- and no one can truthfully say that he was unsuccessful in that regard! I really believe that his writings have literally shaped and changed my life. I love writing and I hope that I am pretty good at it, but my first love really is poetry and while I write it... I am not very good at it. Something that Mr. Lewis and I have in common... along with the fact that we are both horrendous at math. :) Over the last two years, I have tried to share my writing talents with others in a way that felt 'safe' for me and I have done that by blogging anonymously as 'Badgerdown'. I started my own blog and I think it is unique from many blogs in the way that I write about almost everything and anything- I have even shared my poetry on it. I measure success a little differently than the writing success of Mr. Lewis... whose novels, nonfiction and even the mass of correspondence with friends and fans are almost legend to those who knew and study him. I am writing which is something that I really enjoy. And, by blogging, I am learning to express myself not only through my writing but how to express myself to others. I have tried to write about things that I don't understand and learned how to research so that I do develop some true understanding. And in learning how to research I too have really been able to explore my faith and what I believe... and really determine why I believe what I do. Writing has helped me to be more successful in my self introspection and in learning to communicate better with other people. And seeing someone be so successful at writing and in living his faith is inspiring to me and makes me feel motivated to try harder to be successful myself. I want to write a book and I have started collecting research on the Spanish Civil War which is a topic that I am interested in – not sure how many other people are interested though. :D I feel successful at writing because I feel more confident as I continue, my blog gives me an unknown audience from around the world (literally), and I learn so much which is a joy for me and is part of what makes me feel like I am successful. Writing was not something I imagined that I could do successfully as an adult and while I may never really make money from it, this author's example and dedication have shown me that I can but try. And while trying, I think I have done a pretty good job!
One last similarity that I have found and thought I would discuss was the loss of of marital partners. C.S. Lewis married Joy Gresham and when they were married he knew she was dying of cancer. That didn't change his grief and anger at her death. In his struggle, he wrote a journal that became a book about grief. That book has really helped me to find a voice and an understanding of my current grief. I have not lost my husband to death or to cancer- I have lost him to his depression and through the stresses of raising a special needs child and my failures. I have found that many of my feelings seem to be the same as the ones that Lewis describes.8 I feel anger at the unfairness of it all, grief for my loss, fear over the future, uncertainty about how to precede... and a discomfort around others who do not understand. His words, while making me cry, also lift me up. I feel so much less alone and I see that it is possible to get through grief... it is simply a stage of life and a growing experience. Time does go on and it is possible to work within my self and my faith to rise to the challenge. I feel less alone as others have tread the path of my emotions (which at times lately feel bi-polar) and they have survived... Lewis describes getting through grief as a person who has lost a limb- even with help they will not be the same ever again. And I agree with him. I will never view life or its challenges in the same way that I did before. In some ways I feel like I have lost the most important part of myself and I do not see that any replacement could be as good or even as wonderful as my original 'limb'. But I will still have enough to move on with... I will still have the capacity for joy... I will still have the world and my friends and my faith to sustain me.
In conclusion, I think I have shown many of the reason that C.S. Lewis has been such an inspiration and motivating force in my life. While I have not taken the time to show all the parallels I saw between the two of us, I have tried to highlight the most important ones to me. This exercise was helpful to me in a few ways. One way is that I was able to articulate some things that I do not chat about with almost anyone... that is a different experience for me. I also enjoyed the opportunity to really study someone that I admire and to learn more about his life and not just 'selfishly' stick to contemplating, devouring and consuming his thoughts. Thank you for this assignment and I hope that I have completed it well.