My late grandmother was a prolific reader, up until the ripe age of 98 she was reading multiple books at a time (“One in the living room, one downstairs in my chair, and sometimes another one if it’s a good enough story,” she once told me.) As a widow living on her own, it was a way for her to experience different worlds and interesting characters. We shared a love of historical fiction and we would discuss them over our treasured phone calls. Her memory sharp, she’d recount recent favorites and marvel at how much she had learned. I’m convinced her curiosity and love of learning kept her young.
The Power of Story – “Becoming Mrs. Lewis”
Since her passing in March, I’ve been making my way through some of her recommendations. I’ve found solace as I read the stories she read before me, a comforting connection to her through the pages of these books. Serendipitously, as I was cleaning up a pile of papers recently, I found a letter from her (I’m so grateful I held onto them all.) This one was from 2020, it was the height of the Covid lockdown and I had created Advent books for loved ones since I wouldn’t be able to travel to them that Christmas. She had written to thank me, “I feel like I’m having loving and spiritual moments with you every morning when I read it.” But it was the outside envelope in which she wrote, “I loved reading Day 11. You must read ‘Becoming Mrs Lewis’ by Patti Callahan.” Day 11 in the Advent book was about C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, one of my all-time favorite books and one I reread each Advent.
I had promptly ordered that book and there it had sat for nearly 3 years. Life was busy and it was just one of many books on my list to read someday. Finding that note from her, in her familiar, precise, Kindergarten teacher handwritten print, was like a nod from the universe. A few weeks later, I finally picked up “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” and found myself entranced with C.S. Lewis all over again. Most surprisingly, I discovered Joy Davidman, the eventual Mrs. Lewis.
Patti Callahan brought Joy to life through the pages of this book. She perfectly captured the full complexity of the human experience and the tangled web of emotions one can encounter in life. And though theirs was a much different type of love story, it’s charming and exquisitely told. As I read, I could hear my Grandmother’s voice, “I knew you would like it!” or “Isn’t that beautiful – Oxford in the Fall?” It truly was as if she was right there with me as I devoured each page (and I believe that she was).
This book is a gift, not only as a wonderful read, but more significantly it is a reminder of the importance and value in sharing the untold stories. It is particularly so in the case of women who were lost in history, of those that have come before us and paved the way, yet we aren’t aware of their trials, hardships, and resiliency. Perhaps we vaguely sense that it is so, some quiet connection that allows us to press forward, but it is time to share these stories.
Ms. Callahan states this brilliantly in her closing notes of the book, “This work of fiction was meant not only to explore her life, work, and love affair, but also to delve into the challenges she faced as a woman in her time – or by any woman even now trying to live an authentic life while also caring for her family and pursuing her creative life, art, or passion. We are often woefully negligent of the women next to the men we admire, and Joy Davidman is one of those women.”
That’s the magic of books – bringing stories to life that long to be told and to be heard. Stories that make us think differently, take action on long-delayed dreams, give us examples of others that have done the same. There is a divinity at work through the words woven together on the page. It’s how a lovely story from the past can be a battle cry to another in the present. It’s why I love to read and aspire to write, to contribute to the literary treasure trove of inspiration, courage, and the power of story.
Thank you, Grandma for leading me to this book.
Thank you, Patti Callahan for writing it.
Thank you, Joy Davidman for living it and in doing so, inspiring us all.