Any search of the greatest opening lines in literature will find the following: “Call me Ishmael” (Herman Melville, Moby-Dick); “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice); “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina), and “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” (George Orwell, 1984).
But there is another opening line, not as well-known, that should be included. Writing about the death of his wife Joy, C. S. Lewis opens his book, A Grief Observed, this way,
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
He goes on,
“At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”1
Come to think of it, this opening should not be included with the others. This isn’t fiction, it’s biography.
“I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” – Psalm 6:6.
- C. S. Lewis. A Grief Observed (New York: Bantam Books, 1976). 1.