Nick Haddad currently serves as the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s Assistant to the Warden for The C.S. Lewis Study Centre at The Kilns. Before moving to Oxford, Nick served the Foundation as an intern in our Redlands office, as well as received his B.A. at Belmont University in Mass Communications. As a part of his time spent at The Kilns, Nick has agreed to write a series of blog posts regarding his experiences in order to give our readers an idea of what it is like to work and live in the former home of C.S. Lewis.
There has been such a massive wave of events, moments questioning my own sanity, and wondering how in the world I just lived through these last few weeks. For those of you wondering of what I’m alluding to, just shy of two weeks ago was the 50th Anniversary of Lewis’ death, and boy was there a celebration! The Kilns itself was in motion probably 23 out of the 24 hours that these increasingly short days can offer.
For starters, many friendly faces from the C.S. Lewis Foundation made their way from the U.S., not only to see but also be a part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of C.S. Lewis’ death. So getting a very short reunion with some old friends was short- lived as we made our preparations and way to London for the celebration and dedication of a memorial stone in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.
The pre-game event (as I am calling it) at St. Margaret’s Church at Westminster Abbey on November 21st was thoroughly interesting: From hearing back-to-back talks from Alister McGrath and Malcolm Guite, to sitting in on a panel of Lewis experts talking about how their own paths have crossed with Lewis’ teachings. Needless to say, it was a nice tease to the magnitude that would be the full event the next morning.
The next day, I arrived a bit later to Westminster Abbey than I had hoped, but the place was already filling up quickly. I took a seat and struck up a conversation with a local man who had just read The Chronicles of Narnia and couldn’t think of anywhere else he’d rather be. It was a really great, reassuring moment to hear that Lewis still has a huge impact on people in the world. We talked, but then I heard the organ strike its first chord and the event began.
It was handled much like a traditional service with prayer and teachings but through the eye of Lewis, of course. Douglas Gresham did a reading from The Last Battle, and through his voice the whole Abbey resonated and had a booming vibe to it. There was more prayer and singing as the choir beautifully took three lines of Latin and made it into a 15 minute song. The memorial to Lewis was then presented in Poet’s Corner as Walter Hooper laid flowers on the memorial to his old friend.
It was truly a beautiful sight. Emotions were certainly running high. The ceremony ended, and everyone was given the chance to see the dedicatory place for Lewis. It was a service that I like to think Lewis himself would have enjoyed. (By the way, to see photos of the 50th Anniversary Celebration, taken by good friend of the Foundation Lancia Smith, click here.)
On Sunday, the Kilns hosted a proper tea, which in a nutshell for American readers means a formal get together with lots of sandwiches, an inordinate amount of cookies, and more tea than the English channel has water. But at The Kilns we do not leave anything to chance, so we prepared in every way possible, and it’s a good thing we did.
Go ahead and think of an important figure in the Lewis world still alive today, go ahead, I can wait….They showed up! The intellectual giants and scholarly figures just hanging around in the place I call home was astounding. I was telling Anthony Sciubba, one of our current Scholars in Residence at The Kilns, that I had to stop for a few moments and really think to myself, “How in the world did I get here?” It really was almost an overwhelming moment. We all heard loving words from scholars, fans of Lewis’ works, and his old friends.
C.S. Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham stopped by, and I had the fortunate moment of him discovering that I live in his old room at the Kilns: I was in the kitchen getting more tea, and he trotted in with almost reminiscent eyes. He made a quip about me being the maid for the day and gave a chuckle, introducing himself. He then turned to his former room (which is right off the kitchen) and asked who was staying in there. I told him that I was, and he looked at me with a stern face and said, “Oh, well in that case, you better take care of it.” I must have had the expression of a baby when he first discovers he has hands: A look of pure shock and wonderment but with a slight dash of horror. He smiled and told me he was pulling my leg, to which I think every muscle in my body finally unclenched.
The rest of the evening went incredibly well. We had a cake given to us by the wonderful Barbara Whatley who is possibly the nicest woman I’ve ever met, and everyone seemed to leave with a smile on their face. As the tea wrapped up, I certainly felt a huge sigh of relief: such a huge combination of excitement but thorough disbelief of what I just got to participate in. Definitely a story to tell to the grandkids.
I plan to have another blog post up and out there by next week. That’s right, that’s two times the usual rantings and ravings of a mindblown 24-year-old who is hanging in Oxford for 10 more months. But until then, everyone stay warm, grab some hot chocolate, and start that Christmas shopping already. Until next time, this is Nick Haddad, signing off.