It has been said, quite correctly, that man is homo viator. We are wayfarers on the journey of life. We are pilgrim adventurers on the quest for heaven. If this is so, if we can see our lives as a journey, we should see the events of our lives as steps along the path along which we walk. How should we approach this path? How should we walk it? Should we hike it energetically and single-mindedly, expediting life as an explorer might expedite an expedition? Or should we ramble in a leisurely fashion, taking our time and stopping along the way to enjoy the scenery?
These two ways of walking were evident in a real-life adventure by four men in the west of England. The four men were C. S. Lewis and his brother Warnie, and J. R. R. Tolkien and George Sayer, the last of whom is the source of the following story.
The Lewis brothers liked to hike briskly, enjoying the exercise and aiming to get to their destination in an energetic and expeditious fashion. They were increasingly frustrated, therefore, by Tolkien’s perambulatory rambling, in which he strolled in a leisurely manner, stopping to admire a wildflower here or a butterfly there. Eventually, they asked George Sayer to walk with Tolkien while they strode off ahead, promising to meet up at the pub whenever the stragglers eventually arrived.
Which pair of walkers took the better path? Or, more correctly, considering that they were ultimately taking the same path, which pair of walkers took the path the better way? Should we hike or ramble our way through life?
Perhaps we can shed further light on the question by comparing the paths that we walk with the way that we read or write. C. S. Lewis was a master of the art of making an argument with succinct and didactic brilliance. He said what he had to say with expeditious directness. G. K. Chesterton, on the other hand, preferred to ramble around the topic, going off on apparently pointless tangents, pausing to play with words and peppering the path of his prose with paradoxes. He would eventually arrive at the conclusion of his musings by getting to the point he wished to make but not by the most direct route.
Some people are as impatient when reading Chesterton as the Lewis brothers were when walking with Tolkien. Chesterton writes as Tolkien walks. Those who are impatient with such rambling seldom have time to read anything as rambling as poetry. They are unlikely to slow down in order to read a sonnet and even less likely to sit down for a while in order to write one. Are such people really walking the path of life as they should? Are they so worried about wasting time that they never take it?
This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.