Editor's note:

G.K. Chester­ton (18741936) was a British writer and jour­nal­ist. While he often wrote on the sub­ject of Chris­t­ian apolo­get­ics, per­haps con­sid­ered a seri­ous” sub­ject, he did it with a child-like eye towards truth. He cer­tain­ly could see how the king­dom belonged to the chil­dren and how they would lead their adult coun­ter­parts into a fuller embod­i­ment. In the fol­low­ing excerpt Chester­ton writes about his bit­ter envy” for miss­ing a flood occur­ring in Lon­don. He hon­ors the gift of resilience locat­ed in the imag­i­na­tions of chil­dren and play­ful­ly chas­tis­es adults for miss­ing out on the adventure. 

—Lacy Finn Borgo

Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

Enjoy­ing the Floods and Oth­er Disasters 

I feel an almost bit­ter envy on hear­ing that Lon­don has been flood­ed in my absence, while I am in the mere coun­try. [An excep­tion­al rain­fall in Lon­don too, on June 30, over two inch­es in twen­ty-four hours, caused seri­ous floods there and in near­by coun­ties.] My own Bat­tersea has been, I under­stand, par­tic­u­lar­ly favoured as a meet­ing of the waters. Bat­tersea was already, as I need hard­ly say, the most beau­ti­ful of human local­i­ties. Now that it has the addi­tion­al splen­dour of great sheets of water there must be some­thing quite incom­pa­ra­ble in the land­scape (or water­scape) of my own roman­tic town. Bat­tersea must be a vision of Venice. The boat that brought the meat from the butcher’s must have shot along those lanes of rip­pling sil­ver with the strange smooth­ness of the gon­do­la. The green­gro­cer who brought cab­bages to the cor­ner of the Latch­mere Road must have leant upon the oar with the unearth­ly grace of the gon­do­lier. There is noth­ing so per­fect­ly poet­i­cal as an island; and when a dis­trict is flood­ed it becomes an archipelago. 

The joy of inconveniences 

Some con­sid­er such roman­tic views of flood or fire slight­ly lack­ing in real­i­ty. But real­ly this roman­tic view of such incon­ve­niences is quite as prac­ti­cal as the oth­er. The true opti­mist who sees in such things an oppor­tu­ni­ty for enjoy­ment is quite as log­i­cal and much more sen­si­ble than the ordi­nary Indig­nant Ratepay­er” who sees in them an oppor­tu­ni­ty for grum­bling. Real pain, as in the case of being burnt at Smith­field [where the Protes­tant mar­tyrs were burned dur­ing the reign of Queen Mary] or hav­ing a toothache, is a pos­i­tive thing; it can be sup­port­ed, but scarce­ly enjoyed. But, after all, our toothaches are the excep­tion, and as for being burnt at Smith­field, it only hap­pens to us at the very longest inter­vals. And most of the incon­ve­niences that make men swear or women cry are real­ly sen­ti­men­tal or imag­i­na­tive incon­ve­niences — things alto­geth­er of the mind. 

Wait­ing for a train 

For instance, we often hear grown-up peo­ple com­plain­ing of hav­ing to hang about a rail­way sta­tion and wait for a train. Did you ever hear a small boy com­plain of hav­ing to hang about a rail­way sta­tion and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a rail­way sta­tion is to be inside a cav­ern of won­der and a palace of poet­i­cal plea­sures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the sig­nal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wood­en arm of the sig­nal falls down sud­den­ly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a sig­nal and start­ed a shriek­ing tour­na­ment of trains. I myself am of lit­tle boys’ habit in this mat­ter. They also serve who only stand and wait for the two fif­teen. Their med­i­ta­tions may be full of rich and fruit­ful things; and many of the most pur­ple hours of my life have been passed at Clapham Junc­tion, which is now, I sup­pose, under water. I have been there in many moods so fixed and mys­ti­cal that the water might well have come up to my waist before I noticed it par­tic­u­lar­ly. But in the case of all such annoy­ances, as I have said, every­thing depends upon the emo­tion­al point of view. You can safe­ly apply the test to almost every one of the things that are cur­rent­ly talked of as the typ­i­cal nui­sance of dai­ly life. 

Incon­ve­nience right­ly considered 

So I do not think that it is alto­geth­er fan­ci­ful or incred­i­ble to sup­pose that even the floods in Lon­don may be accept­ed and enjoyed poet­i­cal­ly. Noth­ing beyond incon­ve­nience seems real­ly to have been caused by them; and incon­ve­nience, as I have said, is only one aspect, and that the most unimag­i­na­tive and acci­den­tal aspect of a real­ly roman­tic sit­u­a­tion. An adven­ture is only an incon­ve­nience right­ly con­sid­ered. An incon­ve­nience is only an adven­ture wrong­ly con­sid­ered. The water that gir­dled the hous­es and shops of Lon­don must, if any­thing, have only increased their pre­vi­ous witch­ery and won­der. For as the Roman Catholic priest in the sto­ry said: Wine is good with every­thing except water,” and on a sim­i­lar prin­ci­ple, water is good with every­thing except wine. Last week may be said to have exhib­it­ed tee­to­tal­ism on a gigan­tesque scale. To have water, water every­where, and not a drop to drink seems to me to put that ele­ment exact­ly to its prop­er use. The whole human race has exhib­it­ed as one con­sis­tent prin­ci­ple the prin­ci­ple that those who saw most of the water drank least of it. Fish­er­men, sail­ing men, divers, and all oth­ers have always act­ed upon the idea that there might be any amount of water out­side them, but none inside them.

I won­der in what ways the incon­ve­niences you face today might be expe­ri­enced through the eyes of a child? How can you enter into the adven­ture of your day?

Excerpts tak­en from Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines (Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin, Edi­tors. Harper­collins, 2000.) and are used with permission.

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