Do you notice what strangers are reading? And if they’re near enough–perhaps sitting beside you on a plane–try to surreptitiously peer over and read a bit of what they’re reading too? I was on the train yesterday, and I noticed a woman diagonally across from me. I noticed her not only because she was reading, but because of what she was reading. She was reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Looking at her, I wondered if she was in her late fifties. Her appearance, however, tended more towards “youthful” than towards “grandmother.” Her fair hair hung thick and loose to shoulder length with a tossled curly sort of look. Her skin, which had lost the freshness of young skin, was tanned. I could see that she was wearing mascara. Her short dress was bright red with scattered flowers and a denim jacket lay on the seat beside her.
Her copy of the book was old. The picture on the front looked like a coloured version of one of the original drawings. She sat there, largely undistracted, and appeared to read it from start to finish in a little over an hour. I watched her carefully (until I reluctantly turned to my revision) and she was either skim-reading and skipping bits, or else she was a very fast reader. Skimming or no skimming, however, little distracted her from her rapid paging through the story. I was curious. Why does a woman of her age read a Narnia book on the train? Was she indulging in re-reading a childhood favourite? Or was this her first time to read it? What was it that drew her to that book, and what were her thoughts when she finished it? I wasn’t, however, brave enough to cross the isle, plonk down beside her, and say politely, “I see you’re reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. May I ask why?” Yet, all the same, I felt a kinship with her. Here was a perfect stranger reading a book that I love. I smiled at her twice when she glanced my way (was she wondering why that strange girl seemed to be staring at her so much?), but she didn’t seem to catch my eye. And eventually the girl with pages of handwritten study notes in her bag and the lady who read Narnia on the train went their separate ways.
I read some Gerald Manley Hopkins poetry last night. I tend to dislike nontraditional poems, but I can’t help falling a bit in love with some of Hopkins’ poetry. Oh, he makes words fresh and strange and weaves beautiful, alliterated thoughts. I can’t make sense of all he says, but I can still catch some of the beauty in there. I wanted to find a poem that I had heard read years ago, and after a little bit of hunting, I discovered it: The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo. Go and read it.
Age is coming,. Beauty is fading. What to do?
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and
tumbling to decay
But wait. All is not lost. Not at all.
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyhanded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.–Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.–
Yonder.– What, high as that! We follow, now we follow.– Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,
I hadn’t intended to link the lady on the train with this poem–she and the poem began as two separate things that I wanted to share. But when I thought of a title for this post, I thought how my Narnia-reading fellow passenger looked like someone who was trying to stay young. Perhaps she wasn’t. But either way, there’s no need to do that, Hopkins says. Wrinkles and grey hair will come, and eventually death. But nothing is lost, not really. It’s like laying aside a rich cloak, which will be safely folded and stored, waiting for us to wear it once again. Except that when we resume our cloaks, the beauty will be such that what we call beauty now will be ugliness in comparison to the beauty then. Read Narnia, train lady. I hope you read it and see beauty and truth in it. If you don’t already know God, I hope that one day you will. And then, any worries you may or may not have about getting older won’t matter. Give your beauty “back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.” He will restore it. Yonder.