In 2007, while studying at the University of Oxford by means of a study-abroad program, I joined and attended the weekly meetings of the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society, where I met Walter Hooper, Lewis’ late-in-life secretary and friend and posthumous editor and biographer, a man whom I had wanted to meet for a very long time. We began talking at the meetings, I expressed my admiration for him and his work, and Mr. Hooper soon invited me to his flat for tea. This would be the first of two teas; my wife would attend the second.
What follows is a journal entry I wrote as soon as I got back from this first tea with Walter Hooper.
January 21, 2007
Hospitality is an art form, and I’ve just met a savant. From the moment I came in to the moment he walked me to the door, Walter Hooper was a perfect host. The tea never went cold, the silences were never awkward. It was like another world.
I came for tea at 4 o’clock. He opened the door and took my coat, and then proceeded to show
me the various pictures hanging in the hall. There were several color pictures of C. S. Lewis,
which Mr. Hooper had taken himself, and several of Lewis’ friends and family. Then I met his
cat, Lucy (yes, Lucy), who is one of his best friends. I’ve never met a man more attached to his
pet, nor an animal so utterly content in her master. It was nigh prelapsarian.
Then we came into the living room, which was filled with statues and busts, and it had a mirror
on the mantle of an artificial fireplace. We sat down and talked about many things: the Ty-phoo
tea we were drinking (which was Lewis’ favorite); Lewis’ life, works, and impact on people (Mr.
Hooper told me that I, more than anyone he’s met, understood and expressed the Joy, the stamp
of heaven, to be found in Lewis’ world, which spans all of his books); society and school; the
U.S. and U.K.; etc. etc.
It was the closest I’ve ever been to meeting Lewis himself. In a world full of darkness, malice, cynicism, and suspicion, Lewis and those who love him stand as a blazing light for Christ, which cannot be dimmed or snuffed out by the snide remarks of those with sore eyes.
It was real edification. The conversation was pure and pleasant, encouraging and hopeful amid and in spite of all the personal and general problems in the world. It is rare that one meets those who are genuinely on fire for Christ with a flame that never flickers or needs replenishing, for it comes from a source that is infinite. I don’t apologize for any perceived romanticism or exaggeration, for true joy is not something that should ever be held in contempt. All the derision, all the Deridas and Pullmans and Nietzches in the world cannot detract from it. Those who hate the light have no power to hide it; they only end up blind and burnt by it.
Finally I left and we agreed to have tea again sometime, next time with Michelle. Then he did something that would seem to me very odd if done by anyone else, and will most likely seem very strange to you: he helped me put on my coat and walked me out.
The only other time I’ve experienced that degree of hospitality was when Michelle and I had dinner with Dr. Daigle-Williamson and her husband. I hope to learn from my elders and one day be a good host, for true hospitality is something that should not be lost in the past generations, and something which no one who has not experienced it can possibly understand.
Before I left I signed his guest book with his fountain pen, and wrote a comment that, he said, touched him:
“Once again, surprised by joy.”