In which Chesterton destroys the cynic and the sentimentalist:
I’ve already talked a little about the wonder that pervades Chesterton’s writing — it should be easy as pie to see how such wonder is a death knell to cynicism. (It’s hard to grouse about the glass being half empty when the very existence of the glass and its contents amazes you.) But if the right kind of wonder is a death knell to cynicism, it’s also a death knell to mawkish optimism. Reading Chesterton, you’re reminded to keep your eyes open as wide as you possibly can. You see the beauty and the ugliness. The trick is remembering which one wins.
I’m over at Torrey Gazette today with a tribute (of sorts) to G.K. Chesterton and his vision of the ordinary. Go have a look-see.
In her detective novel The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy Sayers compares books to lobster shells: “We surround ourselves with ’em, then we grow out of ’em and leave ’em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.” The same may be said of authors.
And yet, inarguable as the comparison may be on some level, I think we can all point to exceptions that have achieved a certain “supra-lobster shell” status in our lives. These are the books and authors we can’t seem to grow out of, because no matter where we are in life, they still fit.
Chesterton is one of those for me. I discovered his writing six or seven years ago, and much as I’ve come to dislike the phrase “love affair” as a descriptor for things other than actual love affairs, it hits fairly near the mark. I’d like to think I’m proof that one can be staunchly Reformed Presbyterian and still count G.K.C. a defining influence in one’s life. (There is, of course, the distinct possibility the old papist would throw an ink blotter at my head if he knew, but you can’t win ’em all.)
In a day when the only thing one is allowed to be certain of is that one isn’t certain of anything, Chesterton is like a shot of whiskey in a room full of teetotalers:
I have an emotion of joy which lends considerable pleasure to my countenance when somebody tells me that certitude never smiles. For it seems to me that nothing else except certitude can ever really and truly smile. I do not admit that my joy is merely in my doubt or even merely in my change. Joy is in the fact that I’m moving from doubt, which is a weak and undeveloped condition, to conviction, which is a strong and mature condition. I think it is in the fact that doubt is in its nature a process and not a conclusion. Anybody who enjoys doubt for its own sake must prefer a treadmill to a travel or a journey’s end.
Next time you take a walk outside – please God you have a place outside to walk – you should try doing it the way my year-and-a-half old brother does it.
This is not to say that you should walk in circles, or trip over your own feet, or play at faceboarding (which is like skateboarding, but with your face). What I mean is – well, maybe what I mean is best illustrated with a story. Don’t worry. It’s only a short one.
My brother and I went for a walk last week. The weather was unusually pleasant for early March. We had our hats and jackets on and he held my finger and we walked on the road in front of our house, just the two of us. I had it in my head that we would go straight on for a bit, turn around, and come straight back. I might have known better.
His idea of a walk was more like this: Start. Stop. Turn around. Walk the other way. Turn around again, just to see if big brother is paying attention. Stop. Listen attentively to the strange noise coming from one of the nearby houses (a dog, barking). Walk a little more. Stop. Point at a tree in the neighbor’s yard. Look up at the sky. Smile. Laugh. Start walking again.
That’s the way my brother did it.
At first I would pick him up and turn him about and encourage him to “come on, bud.” Come on, bud – because going from Point A to Point B without pausing is the efficient thing to do. But then I stopped. I stopped because his way of walking made my way of walking seem pretty boring.
A walk for him was not about the walking, not really. He had his senses working overtime, and it was glorious. Here was the world, all his for the wondering at. Efficiency be buried and damned.
Chesterton once wrote that we are not perishing for want of wonders, but for want of wonder. My brother has that wonder. He has far more of it than I. Which is another way of saying I have far less of it than I should.
Discovered these beauties on Facebook last night, and could not resist sharing them. G.K. was The Man. I believe I shall toast him at dinner, dead though he be.
“Would you prefer to be thin?”
“No. My weight gives us a subject with which to start these question and answer sessions.”
“What are your thoughts on Hell?”
“I regard it as a thing to be avoided.”
“What do you think of the German language?”
“I regard it with a profound agnosticism.”
“If you were stranded on a desert island with only one book, what book would you want it to be?”
“Thomas’ Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”
“Could you speak louder please?”
“Good sister, don’t worry. You aren’t missing a thing!”
“What do you think will happen in the next great revolution: the revolt of Nature against Man?”
“I hope Man will not hesitate to shoot.”
“Do you believe in the comradeship between the sexes?”
“Madam, if I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade, you would turn me out of the house.”
“You seem to know everything.”
“I know nothing, Madam. I am a journalist.”
“In the event of your having to change your original position, what tactic do you adopt?”
“On such occasions, I invariably commit suicide.”
Quotes taken from Dale Ahlquist’s Common Sense 101: Lessons From G.K. Chesterton.