I enjoy traveling. Cross country car trips are exciting adventures that have created some of my fondest memories. Flying to other countries has been the equivalent of stepping through a looking-glass; one moment you’re surrounded by the familiar and only a “few moments” after, you are immersed in utterly foreign environs.
Admittedly, traveling by air is a bit less enjoyable now, given the necessary security precautions. And, my 75 inch frame has never savored being wedged into the standard airline seat. Still, being able to cross to the opposite slide of the planet within a day borders on the amazing. I would have used the word “unbelievable,” but for the fact that imminent breakthroughs in low orbit travel will likely make today’s flight durations seem protracted.
While travel is often invigorating, there is an annual journey that I do not look forward to. Each year I travel to Saint Louis—a lovely city in America’s heartland—as a member of my church’s commission for military ministry. The problem arises from the fact that we fly in on a Thursday, begin with an informal gathering around dinner, and then rise early for business meetings that last into the late afternoon. Then, we fly home on an early evening flight that gets us home (in my case) about midnight.
While the clock says midnight, that is on a day when we got up in a different time zone, which means we’ve been on the run for twenty hours . . . and a ninety minute drive home from the airport is still ahead. It becomes a bit of a safety concern when you haven’t napped at all. Why not, you might wonder? Well, the truth is that I am one of the many people with sleep apnea, and the decibel level of my snoring could constitute assault. My exhaustion is an inevitable consequence of my consideration of others.
I know I’m not alone in having to take trips like this. What I’m describing is probably familiar to many of you. It’s just that spending nearly twenty-four hours over two days traveling to and from approximately eight hours of meetings leaves me exhausted.
Then there is the consideration that we don’t always make the best decisions when we are tired. There’s an intriguing passage in Prince Caspian where C.S. Lewis describes a decision facing the Narnian heroes. Young Lucy, pure of heart, has informed the group that Aslan would have them follow a particular route. However, in a wonderful portrayal of religious democracy, the band decides to put the matter to a vote! And, just as in church bodies today, we learn that not all ballots result in divinely inspired decisions.
There’s nothing for it but a vote,” said Edmund.
“All right,” replied Peter. “You’re the eldest, D.L.F. What do you vote for? Up or down?”
“Down,” said the Dwarf. “I know nothing about Aslan. But I do know that if we turn left and follow the gorge up, it might lead us all day before we found a place where we could cross it. Whereas if we turn right and go down, we’re bound to reach the Great River in about a couple of hours. And if there are any real lions about, we want to go away from them, not toward them.”
“What do you say, Susan?”
“Don’t be angry, Lu,” said Susan, “but I do think we should go down. I’m dead tired. Do let’s get out of this wretched wood into the open as quick as we can. And none of us except you saw anything.”
“Edmund?” said Peter.
“Well, there’s just this,” said Edmund, speaking quickly and turning a little red. “When we first discovered Narnia a year ago—or a thousand years ago, whichever it is—it was Lucy who discovered it first and none of us would believe her. I was the worst of the lot, I know. Yet she was right after all. Wouldn’t it be fair to believe her this time? I vote for going up.”
“Oh, Ed!” said Lucy and seized his hand.
“And now it’s your turn, Peter,” said Susan, “and I do hope—”
“Oh, shut up, shut up and let a chap think,” interrupted Peter. “I’d much rather not have to vote.”
“You’re the High King,” said Trumpkin sternly. “Down,” said Peter after a long pause. “I know Lucy may be right after all, but I can’t help it. We must do one or the other.”
At many times in our life journeys we may find ourselves “dead tired” like Susan. But we need to keep our wits about us so we don’t make decisions that lead us down paths destined to bring even more suffering and fatigue.
The following passage from Lewis’ Mere Christianity illustrates how we often justify our poor decisions and inconsiderate actions with our tiredness. I certainly do. Perhaps you’ll see a little of yourself in the following words.
I hope you will not misunderstand what I am going to say. I am not preaching, and Heaven knows I do not pretend to be better than anyone else. I am only trying to call attention to a fact; the fact that this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people. There may be all sorts of excuses for us. That time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money—the one you have almost forgotten—came when you were very hard-up. And what you promised to do for old So-and-so and have never done—well, you never would have promised if you had known how frightfully busy you were going to be. And as for your behaviour to your wife (or husband) or sister (or brother) if I knew how irritating they could be, I would not wonder at it—and who the dickens am I, anyway? I am just the same.
That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much—we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so—that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. For you notice that it is only for our bad behaviour that we find all these explanations. It is only our
temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves.
Well, I’m too tired to write any more on this subject now, so those of you who have remained with me to this point, can count yourselves blessed!