I gave the following address at our end-of-year assembly on June 5th.
This year Mr. Sarr, Mr. Bowers, and myself (on Thursdays) read for you 100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire during lunch. The Chestnut King is next and I’m sure it’s first in the queue for lunch breaks next year. N.D. Wilson’s trilogy works wonders for the imagination and I wonder if any of you have tried out the cupboards at your house to see if they lead anywhere amazing.
Henry York discovered a route to other worlds by accident. Then he learned how to go where he wanted with the help of Grandfather’s journals. If he set both compass locks in his room to the right numbers, then the back of the cupboard in Grandfather’s bedroom opened to whole chapters of stories. Badon Hill. Byzantium. FitzFaeren. Endor. Beautiful places. Bad places. Places for battle. Places of roots.
The Chronicles of Narnia tap a similar other-worldly vein. To get to Narnia at first, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy pressed through the back of a wardrobe. They couldn’t always get it to open. Sometimes the way was blocked. But Narnia held lifetimes of stories.
Wouldn’t you like to have one of these cupboards or closets in your house? Or at least know a friend who did? What if you didn’t have to wait for plaster to fall from the wall and find it by accident? What if you could go any and every time you wanted?
I am not asking these questions to tease you. I do want work up your hopes, but not in order to crush them. I’m not trying to trick you so that I can tell you to: “Grow up. Stop day-dreaming for make-believe places. Start living in the real world.” I am asking these questions because, if you’re interested, I might be able to help.
I’ve been doing some reading and I’ve been doing some looking around. I found the door. It’s here, at the school. If you want, I’ll tell you where it is and, if you want, you can go through it and spend your entire summer break in another world. You can live like Henry York Maccabee or Penelope or Anastasia or Uncle Frank or Aunt Dotty. Do you want to know which door it is?
It’s that one. [Ed. Note: Any ol’ door will work. At this point in my address I pointed to our customary point of entrance and exit.]
“Now wait a minute,” one of you says, “I’ve gone out that door over a hundred times this last year. That door leads to a concrete sidewalk and an asphalt parking lot.” You’re right. But maybe you’re not looking at it quite right.
The reality is that the greatest adventures are not the ones you choose but the ones that God writes for you. The best stories aren’t always the ones that shock you like sticking a paperclip in an electrical socket, but they will still put a charge into you. Will you see it? That’s the question.
G. K. Chesterton helps us to tumble our mental combination locks into the right place.
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. (All Things Considered, 41)
This springs from an essay he wrote titled, “On Running after One’s Hat.” Men think that chasing their hat in the wind is a headache, a hassle, a bother. Why? Why not see it as a delightful and fun game? Why not join the game and play? Do you suppose that once you walk out that door, something (or someone) will be a bother to you at some point this summer? If yes, then you are ready for an adventure.
In another essay (“On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family”) Chesterton observes,
A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. (Heretics, 83)
The things are that out of our control make for the great stories. Gilbert argues that the most out-of-our-control elements, (so, according to him, the place where stories come alive), are found on our street, with our neighbors and with our family. Think about your family first.
When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we also step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which could do without us, into a world which we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family, we step into a fairy-tale. (82)
He also addresses why it is so much more exciting to live on our own streets then to take a trip to Timbuktu in search of adventure. Some men (and kids) want to travel, want to explore far-off places thinking that there they will find thrill and escape boredom. A boy such as that
says he is fleeing from his street because it’s dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing because it is a great deal too exciting. It is exciting because it is exacting. It is exacting because it is alive. (78)
The real adventure is living with and interacting with the ones you can’t get away from. The stuff of stories is loving your neighbor, the ones out your own front door.
We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. (79)
God also makes your brother. And your sister. And your mom and dad. God will appoint each of you to backseats of cars or on benches around kitchen tables with beings who will live forever. That’s wild. There is a catch, though. You only have a short time to enjoy the ride.
You will go out that door and away from school for three months. What stories will you have to tell when you return? Epic love for those who weren’t kind to you? Heroic endurance of cleaning your room until every thumb’s width is organized? Poetic joy, a Tolkien like song about your faithfulness to obey your parents?
May God protect you and bless the pages of your summer chapter, raggants included.