Frodo : I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam : I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here.
You’ve been there. Those moments when it feels like it’s us against the world, doom and gloom, all bad news, all disaster. There’s nothing we can do, and no reason to keep on, so why even bother? You’re ready to give up on whatever you were once passionate about fighting for, whether it’s your family, your art, your home, your environment, your rights, or your government.
For me this past week, it might be that I had a cold, but it looked like there was nothing we could do to fight the winds and the fire on the mountain in my beloved community. At the same time, worrying that Trump will find a way to get rid of Mueller, or Mueller will win, and more horrible people will be uncovered, but nothing will come of it and it will take forever. On top of that, any one of the disastrous votes on healthcare and taxes, net neutrality and the environment, sexism and racism, (what did I leave out?) will harm us permanently. Really, what can we do against such reckless hate and horror?
That’s when I crawl back to Tolkien, and his words for the big feelings that, schmaltzy as it is, give me – if not hope, at least a warmer fuzzier feeling. In years past we’ve watched the trilogy- the extended version! – as a marathon, or a whole 2-disc movie at a time. But as I’ve aged, and the movie has aged, and I can almost recite some of the scenes along with the characters, we now watch a disc at a time, and not every night in a row.
The empty space inside is filled with comfort food of words, the flowery poetry of Tolkien, the strong and brave and selfless deeds of the smallest, least powerful people, the generosity and wisdom of the leaders, and the mighty efforts of heroes who overcome their shortcomings and weaknesses.
Even as I look at Sam and Frodo’s faces, and squirm at the naked emotion and the worn phrases, I feel just as the writers and directors intended. Responding to the heart-swelling music, sweat on the brow, pregnant pauses, and careful lighting, I feel that rising of the blood, the strength to go on, optimism in the future, even in the face of so much pain and destruction and disappointment.
It’s no coincidence that I watch this every year as the light fades, the days grow shorter, and winter and cold close in. Just like there’s a reason at this time of year that people gather round lights and trees and songs and family. Choose your tradition, Tolkien or holidays, shopping or drinking. We need to, we must, rekindle hope somewhere, somehow, and then do it over and over again.
I am, at least in this moment, hopeful that in time the Thomas Fire will get put out, that people will rebuild their homes and their lives. Hopeful because we have smart, generous firefighters as our modern front line heroes. On the national scene, there’s hope in the investigations, (oh dear, is Mueller our Aragorn?), hope that women and people of color and the oppressed will continue to speak out and find their strength, hope that the climate can recover, hope that we, with future presidents and officials, can and will rebuild what’s been lost, hope that our grandchildren will not have to watch as Sauron enslaves them and burns up the world.
In times of trouble it’s worth watching this scene again. And again. And again. Join me.
Frodo : I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam : I know. It’s all wrong
By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are.
It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were,
and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy.
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something.
Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.