By Anne Gagliano
In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, we read a compilation of several insightful notes written by an uncle giving practical work advice to his nephew. Screwtape is a highly placed assistant to “Our Father Below.” With his worldly-wise, old devilish wisdom, he counsels his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon, on how to cause his subject to fail in his service to “The Enemy.” These sly, ironic letters are well known and well read, having been published by Mr. Lewis long ago in 1942.
But what isn’t well known is that there exist additional letters written by Screwtape that were, until recently, lost to the general public. They regard firefighters who are, incidentally, especially cherished by The Enemy. These letters divulge the intense desire with which “Our Father Below” wishes to bring them down. It is my privilege to share the first in this series of letters with you now.
My dear Wormwood,
This letter has been dispatched to you with a sense of urgency. You are to target these individuals wherever you find them whilst recruiting as many of your young friends as you can to assist you in this endeavor. I am speaking of firefighters, those detestable creatures who not only squelch ‘Our Father Below’s’ preferred tool, fire, but preserve human life as well. They are amongst ‘The Enemy’s’ favorites, and for this reason, must be given extra attention.
‘The Enemy’ writes in His Book these horrid words; “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” KJV, John 15:13. Both men and women firefighters do this all too often. Their heroic, self-sacrificing antics have given more stability to society than we are comfortable with. We must destroy them as their example inspires others to do such things and gives humanity a disgusting faith in their fellow mankind. I have been racking my brain on how best to bring them down and have determined that it is most effectively done in this way; to go after the firefighter’s place of rest and rejuvenation— home—and try to separate them from their strongest relationship, that shared with a spouse. This will render them much more vulnerable to our attacks.
The reason to target firefighter marriage is this; we ultimately want them to end their own lives, as they are pretty strong and difficult to kill otherwise. I know this from trying to do so for many centuries now. Firefighter suicide is also particularly heartbreaking to other firefighters and adds lots of juicy despair to their already tough job. So suicide it is, and the best way to get them to do this? Divorce. ‘The Enemy’ hates divorce, which is why I especially love it. I was deeply encouraged to read a recent study on the correlation between divorce and suicide done by the National Institute for Healthcare Research in Rockville, MD, which stated the following: “Divorce now ranks as the #1 factor linked with suicide in major US cities, ranking above all other physical, financial, and psychological factors.” How delightful!
The human institution of marriage is made in heaven, but it’s maintenance occurs on earth, which falls under our domain. This loathsome relationship is beneficial to the firefighter for many reasons and actually aids in their ability to perform their terrible, life-saving antics. Therefore, marriage must be perpetually attacked from the moment it begins until the day it hopefully ends. Bury the newlyweds under a load of problems as soon as possible. Try with all your might to destroy the bond before it can flower into full strength. And whatever you do, forbid that worst of endings— ‘happily ever after.’ The best place to start weakening marriage is to go after its foundation which is known as intimacy.
The word intimacy is derived from the Latin, ‘intimus’ meaning inmost. Inmost refers to the hateful yet prized core of a human being—his or her soul. The soul, that place where the heart, the mind, and the will rise up to make an individual capable of great love and great closeness and connection with another. Intimacy is to share this soul in private, tender (yuk) heartfelt (ugh) ways with another. It is an emotional closeness where two people are constantly alert and responsive to the feelings, needs and well-being of another. They are understood and seek to understand. This human intimacy renders the commonplace relationship unique and extraordinary and nearly indestructible, for all eternity. To destroy intimacy, we must first try to understand why it is so central to a strong marriage, since we ourselves will never experience such ridiculousness
Dr. Helen Kaplan writes this on intimacy: “It is an important ingredient in the quality of love and of life. A high degree of intimacy between two lovers or spouses contributes to the happiness and emotional stability of both. All activities are more enjoyable and life is richer and more colorful when shared with an intimate partner.” And this is why marriage is so dangerous to us in our attempts to destroy firefighters: Dr. Kaplan goes on to write “An intimate relationship acts as a buffer, providing shelter from the pressures and tensions of daily life. Without intimate relationships, we tend to get lonely and become depressed. The availability of intimate relationships is an important determinant of how well we master life’s crises.” Aha! We don’t want firefighters to master life’s crises, we want them to fail at this so more lives will be lost! For humans, the most intimate relationship of all is marriage, so it is here that we must focus our efforts.
Fortunately for us, intimacy can be shattered at any time. Newlyweds, middle-weds, and even long-timers can be made to grow distant if given the right stimulus. This is where we come in. If we do not devise ways to destroy this blasted, nearly impenetrable force that bonds two people as one, then their accursed love will not only bolster them up, but the fire service and the extending community as well. It will even create and strengthen and protect those detestable little creatures we hate most of all—children. Children who are nurtured by two loving parents in a happy home have the best chances of growing up and perpetuating this lifestyle of love and strength and community service. Unthinkable!! We must destroy the firefighter and all that he/she stands for. If they go, society goes. And that is ultimately our goal.
In my next letter, I will share with you all my worldly wisdom from centuries of practice on how to destroy human intimacy in marriage. And I am proud to say that I have devised specific tactics just for ‘The Enemy’s’ precious little pets, firefighters.
Your affectionate uncle
Author’s Note: The characters Screwtape and Wormwood as well as the letter format used in this column were borrowed from C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, ©1942, First HarperCollins Publishers Paperback Edition, 2001.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 31 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.