Off the Pulpit

The Writer, The Dog, and The Lesson

In his essay on Sir Walter Scott, C.S. Lewis paints a remarkable picture of a man in distress. Scott was in poor health. His wife had died three weeks before. He was under great financial pressure to finish his book. His diary records a “throttling sensation” which impelled him to tears. To make it all worse, he was kept up all night by a howling dog.

Lewis’ point is not about Scott’s distress but about his reaction. In his journal, he writes: “Poor cur! I dare say he had his distress, as I have mine.”

It is difficult enough to have sympathy for another when one is doing well. To have it when one’s own circumstances are trying – and when it is a dog keeping you up! – takes genuine goodness and soul-strength. The Shulchan Arukh teaches that even those who depend on public funds must themselves contribute to charity (Yoreh De’ah 248:1). One’s own misfortune is not a reason to neglect the sufferings of others. As Yeats writes to a child, “For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” But we are adults and we can understand. And we can help to wipe those tears away.