By Lindsay Airey, LMFT (right: with her nephew Mason)
I didn’t choose for Frodo and Team Middle Earth to accompany me through pivotal points in my 20’s, nor to keep being a source of life-saving balm throughout my 30’s. I didn’t choose them to weave a deep bond between myself and other devoted followers of their epic struggle. I didn’t choose them to hold me through multiple seasons of disorienting grief, nor whisper to my deepest hopes, dreams, sorrows and visions of Beloved Community. I didn’t choose them to challenge and inspire me out of dark valleys of despair or numbing ancestral, cultural and imperial demons of depression, nor to rearrange my notions of power, success, and happiness.
I didn’t choose for them to reach far inside the belly of the U.S. imperial beast that raised me—their audacious knack for stirring deep groans and longings, stoking the cold fire of buried instincts long awaiting resurrection. I didn’t choose for them to incite gasping and grasping for life outside these walls. I didn’t choose them to join my brother and I, binge-watching all three films within a 24-hour period for his 14th birthday, ending with Return of The King, which had just come out in theaters.
I didn’t choose them to sit shotgun with me during my commutes to and from Pasadena during the winter of 2012, traveling three hours round trip to get supervision for my MFT work. In anticipation of the birth of my sister’s first child, I studied the tone, pitch and words of “Into The West” like it was my full-time job. This became a lullaby, a familiar tune to which I would sing and rock my baby nephew to sleep, in hopes it might work its magic into his spirit, deep into synapses and neuropathways; that it might “be a light to [him] in dark places, when all others lights go out.”
Like most things that have the power to seed deep wells of life-transformation, I didn’t choose The Lord of The Rings to keep my courage up during key points along my journey.
This cherished story most definitely chose me. Through its weaving of:
…deep history and sacred lore.
…magic and mystery.
…whimsical humor and gut-splitting delight.
…hope and persistence in the face of overwhelming evil and an ever-present threat of defeat.
…embodiment of the spiritual power and wisdom distilled like powerful elixir through elders, ancestors, hobbits, and trees.
…redemptive, clear-eyed and honest wrestling with empire, without and within.
…invitation to heal, resist, and fight for one another.
…unequivocating assessment of unchecked power and oppression—in all its personal and political, sinister and more subtle forms.
…and all-around invitation to deeper hope, courage, and belovedness.
I start with this testimonial, not only to pay homage to the wonder, grace, magic and sacred power this story has woven deep in my spirit, but also because I have had a hell of a time feeling ok about writing this post. So before I go on, a few disclaimers:
I don’t speak Elvish.
I saw the movies at least a dozen times before even thinking to read the books.
I’ve never read any of the back story.
I would be an epic liability for any team at LotR Trivia Night.
Further disclaimer: I don’t particularly like writing. A dear mentor once suggested maybe I have more of a knack for oral tradition. Bless him. But Lydia asked me to write this a few months back, and when Lydia asks me to write something, I tend not to balk. At the time of her inquiry, I found myself in a time of protracted wilderness wandering. It was the season when emojis became my preferred form of communication. To even think about writing anything felt daunting, but the thought of letting the opportunity pass to write about something so dear haunted me, turned my stomach, and left a lump in my throat.
So what if my writing feels just a tad slow on the uptake?
So what if my wilderness wanderings might limit my words and the courage to utter them?
So what if I feel intimidated to write about a story about which countless others have more wisdom and expertise?
So what if I’ll be disappointed or embarrassed by a finished product that will inevitably not say so much that needs saying?
So what, Lindsay.
Because… if I didn’t write this post, the thing would have kept coming after me, demanding a hearing until I let it do its work. Butting its way into all my sleeping and waking hours. With a slight awakening of hope, and great deal of fear and trembling, I said “Yes.” Since that time, the process of journeying with this piece has led me compassionately and faithfully through those wilderness wanderings. Yet again. Frodo and Team Middle Earth, along with a few close friends and beloved guides, restored my faith in the struggle, prodding me with several concrete and spiritually animating ways to continue training for my part in the fight for our Middle Earth.
Can we ask anything more from our most cherished stories than to invite us into…
…really living our lives?
…seeing our times with clear eyes?
…loving ourselves and our communities deeper, more imaginatively, and more fully?
…and then providing the kind of power and medicine we need to keep our spirits up and bodies in the game?
These powerful tales carry the wisdom to save us as imperialist conventional wisdom keeps whispering, “The game’s already rigged! We win, you lose. You might as well join us…”
This conventional wisdom whispers for us…
…to resign in cynicism and fear.
…to bury our heads in the sand.
…to dig our heels into our personal well-being and individualized legacy projects.
…to save our own skin and kin.
…to escape into our preferred, heavily-marketed consumer drugs of choice.
And yet, Frodo and Team Middle Earth stubbornly show us another way is possible. They invite us to keep finding ways to weave Beloved Community that will increase our collective capacity to struggle, against all odds. They know the truth Team Saruman has become too blind and hardened to see. In the end…
“There is only one Lord of the Ring, only one who can bend it to his will. And he does not share power.”
And, “if [we] do not find a way, no one will.”
Team Gandalf/Galadriel: wise elders whispering, embodying and nudging us toward greater courage, hope, life, and resistance. Refusing surrender and making a way out of no way.
Lest we be lulled by their bank-rolled messages, inviting defeat via the roads of complicity, resignation and despair (which “would seem like wisdom, but for the warning in [our] heart[s]”), may we also be prodded by Merry’s words to his all-too-ready-to-give-up-at-the-first-sign-of-a-conventional-wisdom-escape-hatch companion:
Maybe Treebeard’s right. We don’t belong here Merry. It’s too big for us. What can we do in the end?….(then, with a whimsical smile) We’ve got the Shire. Maybe we should go home.”
Merry (pensive, determined, clear-eyed, sober):
The fires of Isengard will spread. And the woods of Tuckborough and Buckland will burn…and… and all that was once green and good in this world will be gone. There won’t be a Shire, Pippin.
Or, from newfound favorite artist, in homage to his late father:
Our people say, some men draw a circle around themselves.
Other men… draw a circle around their family, hmm?
Then there are also men who have decided to draw their own circle around their kinsmen, their tribe.
Are you getting me? Hmm?
But the greatest men, like your uncle, we draw our circle around the circumference of the entire world.
(Jidenna, 2017 album, The Chief)
The Lord of The Rings, like all great stories, animates a spiritual power capable of awakening our deepest, most human and most courageous selves. It draws its circle around all Middle Earth. In so doing, it is a tale about the commons, about personal and political wrestling, journeying, organizing, Spirit-sensitivity, and Beloved Community-weaving that sets its sights on the liberation of every living thing.
If we let it, perhaps it can be a guide to us: to stoke, prod, convert, animate and expand our own fledgling imaginations, hopes, dreams, visions, moral courage and integrity as we seek to walk personal and collective paths through equally perilous times.
LotR joins the resounding chorus of beloved stories handed down, faithfully performing their sacred work of calling us back to ourselves. It shines its light into our own darkness, lifting the veil to help us see more clearly as we “decide what to do with the time that is given us.”