Last Tuesday I had the honor of visiting The Kilns, where C. S. Lewis lived while teaching at Oxford. This is the house where four girls from London stayed during WWII, and where Lewis walked and swam with J.R.R. Tolkien and friends.
Near the house is a small park, which I walked in and enjoyed before my tour of The Kilns began. Although enjoyed is an imperfect word.
As soon as I walked down the path and onto the bank of the pond, I burst into tears. I had no idea this trip would be so emotional, but seeing the pond with the ducks and the soft, changing light was all too much like Narnia–a place I had lived in as a child, a part of my deep self. And here it was, or something close to it, right before me.
I shamelessly cried for a few minutes, tears streaming and hand over my face. I noticed a family emerge from one part of the forest, and I then held it together for their sake and sat down on the Lewis bench. A pair of ducks waddled out of the water and came toward me. I know this is probably not encouraged, but I fed one of them a bit of sandwich bread from my hand.
It turned out that the family in the forest was also on my tour…at least they knew I was a passionate Lewis fan.
The Kilns is now owned by the C.S. Lewis Foundation, and students studying at Oxford can rent a room, live there, and study. They congregate in the parlor to talk about their work, and of course about Lewis. So unlike other preserved homes, most of the furniture was similar to but not original to what C. S. Lewis owned. I got to sit in each room.
I walked in the room where the Chronicles of Narnia were written, which was an office next to his bedroom.
The tour ended with a plate of Turkish Delight, which I ate happily even though I had brought my own Turkish Delight as well. I wandered around the pond and the park again, then walked to the church where Lewis is buried.
It took me a while to find his gravestone, but when I did I sat on the edge and traced my finger over the S of Lewis and stayed quiet. Aslan beneath the stone table. I read more of Mere Christianity.
And then something happened that I hesitate to write about, because in my desire to share I also have a desire to give you the most beautiful version of events. A gardener arrived to work nearby, cutting grass and replacing flowers. He looked at me, but said nothing.
Then another man came asking for C. S. Lewis’s grave, and I told him it was right here. I stood to moved to the nearby tree, and said everyone deserved their own private moment with him. It was after this that the gardener said: “You shouldnta sat on his grave. I’ve seen a lot of things in my day, but I’ve never, ever, seen someone do that.”
“Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry.”
But I was crushed. I wanted to cry again, but that would be more humiliating. The other man walked toward me and said “I think you should have sat on it,” and asked about me. He had studied political science in the US and we talked for a few minutes before he left.
I felt like I had desecrated a holy site, when that was not my intention, at all. The gardener seemed well-meaning–he was cleaning the graves with great care, after all–but also seemed to be a gruff no-nonsense man. I don’t think he meant to be mean, but I wish he had known my actions came from utmost respect and love.
I wrote to my mom and she reminded me of Lucy seeing Aslan after a long absence, and running up to hug him, ecstatic, and having one of the lesser animals saying something like ‘here now, he’s the King, and you mustn’t presume that way,’ and Aslan turning and gently growling at the creature. Maybe Lewis would not have minded, after all. Or does not.
In typical England fashion, the day ended with a shower and then a stunning sunset. This is one of many pictures I took on the train from Oxford to Haworth; the clouds kept changing and creating ever more beautiful shapes.
A glorious, emotional, demanding, gentle, spiritual day.