For anyone who has not read the book, the narrator of the story describes taking a bus ride from hell (or purgatory) to heaven. Upon arrival in heaven, he witnesses the response his fellow passengers have to the reality of heaven and observes their interactions with the friends and relatives who greet them. Many of these passengers are displeased with what they find and are unwilling to shed their earthly baggage for the joy of heaven. As I read these accounts, I kept thinking, “My gosh, I know this person,” or, “I could have been that other person.” But the one that Lewis nailed with the greatest poignancy for me was the mother, Pam. Pam was disappointed to be met by someone called Reginald rather than by her son Michael. As Pam crabbed to Reginald about wanting to see Michael, Reginald tried to explain to her how things worked in heaven and that she would see Michael in due time… but first she needed to seek God. Pam retorted, “You wouldn’t talk like that if you were a Mother.” I loved Reginald’s reply: “You mean, if I were only a mother. But there is no such thing as being only a mother. You exist as Michael’s mother only because you first exist as God’s creature. That relation is older and closer.”
When Pam continued to argue that she gave up everything to make her son happy, Reginald informed her, “Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long…[God] wanted your merely instinctive love for your child (tigresses share that, you know!) to turn into something better. He wanted you to love Michael as He understands love… But there was, it seems, no chance of that in your case. The instinct was uncontrolled and fierce and monomaniac.”
After a while, Pam grew increasingly frustrated and demanded to see her son because, “He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine, for ever and ever.” When Reginald protested that “nothing can be yours by nature,” Pam was incredulous. I think I may have actually witnessed the following interchange in real life:
“What? Not my own son, born out of my own body?”The narrator and his heavenly guide eventually move on from Pam and discuss love versus lust and how good love can go bad. The guide muses that there is something about feelings of love that can “make it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is.” He later concludes, “The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion.”
“And where is your own body now? Didn’t you know that nature draws to an end?”
“Michael is mine.”
“How yours? You didn’t make him. Nature made him to grow in your body without your will. Even against your will…”
I suppose I felt some level of comfort knowing that, so many years ago, Lewis must have encountered the same kind of obsessed and self-righteous women that I have encountered… that it isn’t just me… that this isn’t some new phenomenon. And I could not help but be amused at the continual clever rebuttals to what the obsessed mother had to say. Ever the thinker, Lewis has unexpectedly given me some ideas for replies the next time I’m bingoed.