Read the essay: Learning in War-Time
What are you doing here?
When professor Adriana Ribeiro posed this question, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. I’m here because this is where I’m supposed to be, I thought. This is my class. If I don’t attend I’ll fall behind. I’ll get bad grades. I’ll disappoint my family. I’m also here to learn, because I like learning. I chose to be here—I want to be here. The same holds true of the question, What are you doing at Calvin College? My culture and my family expected that I go to college, and I was excited to go, to learn more about literature and languages, and how to share my passion with others through teaching. I chose Calvin because of its size, its relative proximity to my home and family, its strong emphasis on vocation and cultural engagement, its community, its academic reputation, its highly regarded English department. And, because in the end, after visiting several good colleges, I felt that Calvin was where God wanted me to be.
In “Learning in War-Time”, Lewis argues against those who ask why young men should waste their time and energy studying during war-time, when all attention should go towards aiding the war-effort. Education continues to be important, not only because war is insignificant when compared to the pursuit of knowledge, but because all of human life, academic, military, and otherwise, is dwarfed by the reality of heaven and hell. The question is not really, “Should we study with a war on?” but, “Should we study when such a small amount of time stands between us and our eternal destinies?” If one can justify learning “under the shadow of these eternal issues” then whether it is war or peace-time should make little difference in a scholar’s life.
Furthermore, war, Lewis points out, is really not significantly different from peacetime. It doesn’t create a “new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.” There are always crises and calamities occurring all around us that, if we chose to pay attention to them, would seem infinitely more important than sitting in a library or a classroom improving our minds. “Human life,” Lewis says, “has always been lived on the edge of a precipice…Life has never been normal.” Yet, scientists and philosophers and historians continue their work. Discoveries are made. Books are written and read. Life as we know it goes on.
Lewis then goes on to talk about the three ways in which war disrupts a life of learning—excitement, frustration, and fear—and makes some very insightful comments about death:
“What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased…Yet war does do something to death. It forces us to remember it…War makes death real to us.”
This constant reminder of our own limitations and mortality is healthy for the Christian life, a blessing in disguise. So often we walk through life, pushing aside thoughts of death and what awaits us afterwards. In wartime, however, these thoughts can no longer be ignored, and as we are forced to face our own end we must also wonder what lies beyond it, and keep our spiritual state in the forefront of our minds.However, at its heart, this is an essay not about death or war or even heaven and hell, but about vocation.