[Utah’s “Mount Doom”, courtesy of the 8/2018 California fires a thousand miles away. Even the air knows we’re all connected].

After my divorce, I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy every year. James (my ex-h) is actually the one who initially said circa 2006 “I bet you’d like the LOTR movies” and he was right and the next year after he moved 2000 miles away to live with his girlfriend and her son, and my children almost died of broken hearts, I bought the books at Barnes and Noble and read them on my front porch.

The books spoke to parts of me that I’d not known were there to the point where the person who wrote them was important to me. What kind of soul, I wondered, would create something this complicated and magical? What kind of life could make this allegorical journey pierce through my grief and trauma so as to feel strength? I had to know, and my wonder brought him to me.

And he wasn’t even a writer; not in the placeholder of those typically dubbed with that label. He was a philologist—studied languages; invented them for his books—and the world he moved in was the academic one. But his beloved mother had inspired words by encouraging wide reading and at age 12, when he endured her death, Tolkien and his little brother became wards of the Catholic Church (their mother disowned by her family when she converted to Catholicism), making his religious allegiance firm, through to when in the hospital recovering from a lice infestation–as he relived stepping over dead faces and slipping on the blood of his friends in the trenches of WWI–Middle Earth was born.

And as I’d rock in the wrought iron glider James had purchased, meeting this man and reading his books, watching our children play in our neighborhood—then later, inside, hold them when they fell into panic that I’d somehow disappear forever and they’d be alone—Tolkien made me wonder of the resilience and wisdom which heralds from paths trod of pain, and his voice let me live inside worlds I wanted to be called to.

Because while trauma and grief had settled in to terrorize, through words and the magic he somehow gleaned from his difficult life, Tolkien bore people of strength and tenderness who persevered through fighting greater causes and mightier foes. And on my porch, rocking that glider–watching the children I loved more than anything; and in the privacy of vulnerability I dared not admit–he taught me how to listen to the shadows so as to hear their wisdom.

Since life is often fraught and when the tender heart needs a voice you must make a world for it to live in. For though much in life is endured, for beauty and love much is also created.

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