It’s any day of any year, which means that somewhere C. S. Lewis is being misquoted in spades.
In this particular case, the misquote appears in a bad font on a trite graduation card distributed by Papyrus, which is perhaps the most trite font of all, but I digress.
Here’s the offending phrase:
There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind – C. S. Lewis
Item the first: This pseudo-quote lacks a full stop. How hard is to write a complete sentence? Not hard. Period.
Item the second: The words “far, far” are often added to this particular pseudo-quote in order to amplify the sentiment. Really and truly. Indeed and yes. For sure and certain.
Item the third: The artwork implies that what lies ahead is some kind of ethereal life journey in which a person will traverse meadows and scale heights and discover glorious delights all while enjoying the aroma of wildflowers and herbs and probably not doing any real life things such as grocery shopping, washing dishes, cleaning toilets, paying bills, folding laundry, and showing up for work each day.
Item the fourth: This pseudo-quote is so completely taken out of context on this graduation card that it’s hard not to wonder whether there are any editorial checks and balances in this world any more.
On June 17, 1963, Lewis responded to Mary Willis Shelburne (a regular correspondent of his as found in The Collected Letters and Letters to an American Woman). We don’t have the immediately previous letter she wrote to him, but we know the context: she was lying in a hospital with what she thought was a terminal illness. She was afraid of dying. Lewis wrote the following to her:
Dear Mary Willis,
This is terrible news. The doctor who refused to come wd., I think, be liable to criminal prosecution in this country.
Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well? Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you: like taking off a hair-shirt or getting out of a dungeon. What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.
Remember, tho’ we struggle against things beause we are afraid of them, it is often the other way round – we get afraid because we struggle. Are you struggling, resisting? Don’t you think Our Lord says to you ‘Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath are the evelasting arms. Let go, I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?’
Of course, this may not be the end. Then make it a good rehearsal.
Yours (and like you a tired traveller near the journey’s end),
Try putting that on a graduation card. It’s really more of a post-get-well sentiment in which context the artwork on this card might serve (feebly) what with its thin attempt at heavenly landscape. “Further up and further in,” as Jewel the unicorn would say.
Turns out Mary’s health scare was indeed just a rehearsal. She lived another 12 years. Lewis, though, died just five months after writing this letter.
There are plenty of actual C. S. Lewis quotes that would be apropos for a graduation card. They wouldn’t coddle or coo, though; they would challenge and charge, in the best of ways.
As it stands, this card should have said:
There are better things ahead than any we leave behind. – C. S. Lewis, to a woman on her presumed deathbed
That might not sell well, but at least it would be honest.
I love how you love Mr. Lewis. And I love his wisdom to Mary. What joy to know something far better than this weary sad world awaits me!