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Remembrance

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She will not be canonized; the Church of England does not claim that power. But the Archbishop of Canterbury announced yesterday morning that Dr Susan Pevensie will be remembered in the calendar of Common Worship as a beloved example of what one person can do to advance God's work on earth.

Dr Pevensie's charitable children's medical organization, Lucy's Cordial, operates in partnership with Médecins sans Frontières and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1972 for its work to mitigate the suffering of children in Vietnam and the surrounding region. Her advocacy for women's rights won her international acclaim in the 1980s and 1990s. Queen Elizabeth II admitted her to the Order of the British Empire as a Dame Commander in 1987, though Dr Pevensie preferred not to use the title.

Dr Pevensie always seemed puzzled by the adulation she received. "I don't deserve praise," she said, in a 1999 interview. "I've done nothing that other people haven't also done, and I've done none of that alone. Don't think that I'm any better than you. Open your heart and God will lend you strength to do the right thing, just as he has helped me."

Dr Pevensie's faith and calling, the common story goes, came from her grief after the loss of her parents, siblings, and cousin in a terrible railway accident in 1949. This idea persisted even after the posthumous publication of her private journals, which speak of a shared vision she and her siblings experienced during their childhood evacuation from London, and of her struggle to reconcile that vision -- that personal experience of God -- with her desire for an ordinary life. The later tragedy was simply a reminder.

"I identified the bodies in the morgue this afternoon," Susan Pevensie wrote the day after her bereavement. "I have been fighting for so long, without admitting to myself what I was doing. I told Edmund I could not fight the world. He was too kind to tell me that by surrendering that battle, I was fighting myself, fighting my family, and fighting Him. I left myself utterly alone, for the world did not care to see me, only my flag of surrender, and false friends are no exchange for love. But if I fight the world, I open myself again to Him; then I am never alone."

Here there is an inkblot in the original manuscript.

"They are all in His country now, beyond the ends of the world, and I am glad for them," the entry continues, "but if only I had trusted Him to lend me strength, instead of measuring my own heart and finding it wanting, and forgetting that my own heart is never all that I have to lean on -- if I had listened to Edmund, and Lucy, and Peter--"

Another inkblot.

"If one of us had to remain, best for it to be me. I am the one who waits at home while others go forth to battle. This will be a longer wait, but I am sure I will find tasks to occupy the years, and at least now I have no need to fear anyone's fate but my own."

Two months later, when her parents' wills had been mostly executed, Susan Pevensie quit her secretarial position and began training as a paediatrician. Six years later, she founded Lucy's Cordial, endowing it with her entire inheritance. By 1960, Lucy's Cordial had expanded to every Commonwealth nation, as well as most of Western Europe. In 1976, Dr Pevensie allied Lucy's Cordial with Médecins sans Frontières. At the time of her death, Lucy's Cordial operated permanent missions in 157 countries, and had a well-trained and funded crisis response system.

"Medicine was never truly my calling," Dr Pevensie wrote in 2005, one month before her death in a suicide bomb attack in Fallujah, where she was overseeing the expansion of a Lucy's Cordial mission hospital. "Lucy was the healer among us; my interest lay more in beauty and gentle persuasion. But this world is so desperately in need of healing, and I wished to honour Lucy's memory, so I pretended to be her rather than myself.

"One cannot live another's story, so perhaps it is not surprising that I drifted away from the practicalities of the organization and became something of a one-woman protest movement in service of human rights. I am only thankful that I had the good sense not to attempt living Peter's and Edmund's lives as well. I make a passable doctor with some effort, but as a general, a minister, an MP, a barrister, or a judge, I would be a laughingstock."

Here there is a faint line, as if Dr Pevensie rested her pen on the page for a moment, followed by, "Perhaps I might have made a passable MP. But there is no point wondering what might have happened. This is the life I made with the world I was given, and it is more than enough."

Whatever might have happened to Susan Pevensie had she followed another path, it is certain that without her tireless work for justice and fair treatment for all people in all nations, our world would be a poorer place. On March 4th, the Church of England will attest to that truth.