Thursday, March 19, 2009

Let me know how fleeting I am

At the heart of Lewis's short essay entitled On Living in an Atomic Age is an incredibly important thought: we are going to die. Concerning this world, our lives our mortal. And this very fact should shape the way we live our lives. This is what Lewis is driving at in the essay.

Lewis wrote the essay in 1948, three years after the atomic bomb was used on Japan in World War II. No doubt, people around the world become frightened at the notion that they too could be destroyed by this nuclear weapon.

In order to apply Lewis's thoughts to today's time, we can simply replace "atomic bomb" with "terrorist attack" (or any way of dying that strikes fear in your heart). He begins the essay by saying that people think far too much about the atomic bomb. He goes on:
“you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways…It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”
Instead of worrying, he says:
“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies but they need not dominate our minds.”
And finally he gives the lesson explicitly:
“What the wars and the weather and the atomic bomb have really done is to remind us forcibly of the sort of world we are living in and…which we were beginning to forget. And this reminder is, so far as it goes, a good thing. We have been waked from a pretty dream, and now we can begin to talk about realities.”
The reality is that "the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." (1 John 2:17). And may we pray with the Psalmist: "O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"


  1. Bob Dylan wrote a song about this line of thinking in the '60's. It was "Let Me Die in My Footsteps"

    I will not go down under the ground
    "Cause somebody tells me that death's comin' 'round
    An' I will not carry myself down to die
    When I go to my grave my head will be high,
    Let me die in my footsteps
    Before I go down under the ground.

    There's been rumors of war and wars that have been
    The meaning of the life has been lost in the wind
    And some people thinkin' that the end is close by
    "Stead of learnin' to live they are learning to die.
    Let me die in my footsteps
    Before I go down under the ground.

    I don't know if I'm smart but I think I can see
    When someone is pullin' the wool over me
    And if this war comes and death's all around
    Let me die on this land 'fore I die underground.
    Let me die in my footsteps
    Before I go down under the ground.

    There's always been people that have to cause fear
    They've been talking of the war now for many long years
    I have read all their statements and I've not said a word
    But now Lawd God, let my poor voice be heard.
    Let me die in my footsteps
    Before I go down under the ground.

    If I had rubies and riches and crowns
    I'd buy the whole world and change things around
    I'd throw all the guns and the tanks in the sea
    For they are mistakes of a past history.
    Let me die in my footsteps
    Before I go down under the ground.

    Let me drink from the waters where the mountain streams flood
    Let me smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
    Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
    Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace.
    Let me die in my footsteps
    Before I go down under the ground.

    Go out in your country where the land meets the sun
    See the craters and the canyons where the waterfalls run
    Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
    Let every state in this union seep in your souls.
    And you'll die in your footsteps
    Before you go down under the ground.

  2. Althea
    Thanks for posting that. I've never heard it before, but the lyrics are great.

  3. Check out youtube:

    the song is set to D.A. Pennebaker's Daybreak Express.