Life is a series of daily choices
By Wilfred Martens
There are three days that are important in life: the day you were born, the day you die, and the day in between. The day you were born was a nine-month day. The day you die is an eternal day. But the day between is measured exactly the same for each of us: 24 hours, or 1440 minutes, or 86, 400 seconds.
The Old Testament poets give us some advice on the value of a day. The psalmist says, “This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps 188:24). Proverbs 27: 1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”
What is the value of today? This day is a day of choices about how we will live our lives. Three stories remind us of the importance of choices and the value of each day.
This person began life with all the classic handicaps and disadvantages. His mother was a domineering person who found it difficult to love anyone. She had been married three times and had beaten her second husband so badly that a jury found her guilty of spousal abuse. The father of the boy in this story was her third husband; he died before his son was born. The woman could not keep a job. She was fired numerous times. Eventually she became a practical nurse in a convalescent hospital where she earned a few dollars each day.
Teachers described the boy as withdrawn, maladjusted, insolent and secretive. He had no friends and was always alone. His mother didn’t permit him to have playmates. He was intelligent and had a high IQ but had little interest in school. His grades were consistently low. He frequently skipped classes and went home to watch TV or read comic books. At age 13 he was assigned to a probation officer because his mother lost all control of him.
He dropped out of school after ninth grade, barely literate. When he was old enough he joined the Marines, but his antisocial behavior continued. He was court-martialed and given an undesireable discharge. He developed a violent personality.
He married, not for love but for companionship. He and his wife had two children, but he was abusive to his family. He left when his wife insisted that they separate. Even though he continued to live in the same city as his mother and family, he rarely saw them. Like his mother, he drifted from job to job, unable to keep one for very long.
This person was born in a small English village near London, the youngest of three brothers. He was born into a distinguished family. His mother, father, and grandparents were noted writers, philosophers and scientists.
He was sent away to boarding school at age 14 when his mother died. While at the prestigious Eton College he suffered an eye disease which left him nearly blind. His sight improved enough for him to attend Oxford University. This intelligent student declared himself an agnostic and had no use for religion. He graduated with high honors at age 22.
During the years of World War I he decided to give teaching a try but was considered by some students to be an incompetent and hopeless teacher who couldn’t maintain discipline in his classes. Thereafter he worked at various jobs, including farm laborer, finally settling in with publishing work.
At age 25 he married and had one son. A couple of years later, after his first novel was published, his writing expanded to include poetry, short stories, drama, essays and additional novels. As a well-known writer he traveled in Europe and Central America, finally settling in Hollywood, Calif., with his wife and son. Here he worked as a screenwriter while continuing to publish novels and other writings.
While in southern California he became interested in vegetarianism, meditation, eastern mysticism and was well-known for advocating and taking hallucinogens. His application for U.S. citizenship was rejected because he declared himself a pacifist who refused to take up arms to defend the U.S.
He was diagnosed with cancer at age 66 but continued to write and lecture on human potential for three years. He rejected religion as “horrible fooleries” and “gratuitous folly.”A biography written by his wife describes his last hours. On his deathbed and unable to speak, he made a written request to his wife for a massive injection of LSD. She obliged and gave another injection a couple of hours later. Shortly thereafter he died.
This lad was born into a secure home in Ireland; his parents were church members. His older brother was his lifelong closest friend. The first 10 years were happy—summer vacations at seaside resorts, bicycling in the countryside and visiting friends.
Their house was full of books, and the parents read to the boys during their early years. At age four this boy was an avid reader of Beatrix Potter; the tales stirred his imagination. At age five he wrote his own stories.
He was home-schooled until age 10, when his mother died. Then their father sent the boys to a boarding school. Here things began to unravel. At age 12, with no supportive parents or friends nearby, he was subjected to atheistic teachers who encouraged him to question his faith. His questions turned to doubt, and soon he declared himself an atheist.
At age 19 he joined the army and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He saw active duty and was wounded in battle. He returned to Oxford University and graduated with highest honors at age 24. Two years later he returned to teach philosophy and literature.
As a university professor he became close friends with several Christian colleagues. They challenged his atheism. Because of his respect for them, this professor listened carefully and thought about their comments. Finally, at age 33, he became a Christian. Over the years he published many writings: scholarly and popular essays, novels, a space trilogy, children’s stories and books about the Christian faith. Many of his readers became Christians.
An intersecting point
So, what do these three stories have in common? Where do they intersect? They come together in a strange and interesting manner on a single day: Friday, November 22, 1963.
On this day, the 24-year-old man man in the first story climbed the stairs to the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas, where he worked. At 12: 30 p.m., Lee Harvey Oswald looked through the scope of his high-powered rifle and fired twice, killing President John F. Kennedy.
The person in the second story, Aldous Huxley, is best known for his novel Brave New World, a grim cynical picture of a future world based upon his vision of where social and scientific trends will lead in the future. On this day he died at 5:21 p.m. in a drug-induced state. He was 69.
Across the Atlantic, in his home just outside of Oxford, C.S. Lewis died on this same day. He was 64. Because headlines around the world focused on the assassination of the American president, very few people were aware that a person who had so significantly influenced Christian thought and encouraged positive change in so many lives had died.
On this day three men each made a choice. One chose to kill another person. One chose to reject religion and leave this world in a drug-induced state. And one passed into eternity declaring in his numerous writings that Christ was the center of his life. His words continue to lift the hearts of many: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
A single day in November 1963 is a reminder that every day is a choice. We can fill each day with positive or negative values, attitudes and experiences. Joshua 24: 15 encourages us to “choose you this day whom you will serve.”
Wilfred Martens is professor emeritus of English at Fresno Pacific University. Martens, a graduate of Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., taught at FPU for 35 years and retired in 2000. His doctorate degree is in C.S. Lewis studies and Martens does two or three Elderhostel sessions each year on C.S. Lewis. Martens and his wife, Erma, are active members of College Community Church in Clovis, Calif.