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Seeking Narnia in the time of the coronavirus


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Guest Column by Tara Roberts

This morning, when I would normally be getting my children ready for church, my 11-year-old son and I listened to a recording of C.S. Lewis’ “How Are We To Live in an Atomic Age?”

When it ended, Henry leaned back and reflected on what a good idea it is to not be afraid, to not “huddle together like frightened sheep,” as Lewis wrote.

The problem is, we’re about to do a lot of huddling.

My children’s school district extended spring break by two weeks, and I expect it will end up longer. My husband and I work at the University of Idaho, which is switching to online-only instruction indefinitely, and we are incredibly privileged to have jobs that are easy to do remotely. Our events and activities have been cancelled, our church building closed. We’ve been making schedules and lists, planning games and projects and schoolwork, but it’s only Day 2, and it’s still the weekend. We can’t really comprehend what’s ahead of us.

In the next 20 — or more — days, we plan to practice “social distancing” as scientists and public health officials recommend, which means going out in public as little as possible. We help care for family members with fragile immune systems, and to protect them, we plan to limit contact with everyone other than them.

But, as Lewis exhorts, I can’t let us spend these days emotionally huddling, frozen in fear, even if we are physically limited by the realities of a rapidly spreading pandemic.

To explain this to Henry, I turned to Lewis’ most beloved work, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.” I’ve read this book aloud to my sons several times, and they know the story well.

“Do you remember, at the beginning, what Peter and Lucy and Edmund and Susan were doing? Why did they go to the Professor’s house in the country?” I asked.

He grew solemn. “Because of the bombings from the war.”

I told him how Lewis was a man who knew dark times well. He fought and was injured in World War I, and he witnessed children much like the Pevensies evacuated from London during World War II.

The adventure in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” begins when the children are housebound, huddling. They are away from school, their normal routines, their friends. Their plans to explore the vast grounds of the Professor’s mansion are thwarted by rain. Edmund whines, Susan gets bossy, Peter fakes cheerfulness, Lucy worries. It’s only Day 1.

Remember, I told my son, what happens next. Despite the failure of their plans, despite their fear and imperfection, the Pevensie children have a glorious adventure. They meet talking animals, explore a magical land, defeat a witch and become kings and queens.

I have tried to be honest with my children about my own uncertainty. They are learning at a tender age that their parents don’t know everything, can’t predict everything, can’t protect them from everything. The best I can do is assure them that amid all this, we are here for them.

I have tried to be honest as well about how much we will need from them in the coming days. Though they may, like the Pevensie children, find themselves tempted by the darker urges of their natures and scared by the phantoms of a precarious world, I need them to call upon the God-given best parts of themselves. I need them to be bold like Peter, brave like Susan, loyal like Edmund, loving like Lucy.

Henry and his brother, and the millions of other children huddling around the globe, may not find Narnia in their closet in the coming days — though the time of coronavirus feels so much like living in a novel, I won’t rule out the surprises of fantasy entirely. But when it ends, I hope they step out into the world with a good story to tell.

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Tara Roberts
Tara Roberts
Tara Roberts is a mother, writer, journalist, educator, Lutheran and ice cream enthusiast who lives in Moscow, Idaho, with her husband, two children and dog.


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