[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 in 2007, 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 me to him.
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. Then at age 12, when he endured her death, Tolkien and his little brother became wards of the Catholic Church because their mother had been disowned by her family when she converted to Catholicism thus making his religious allegiance firm. And fast-forward tonwhen in the hospital recovering from a lice infestation, he relived stepping over the dead faces of soldiers and slipping on the blood of his friends in the trenches of WWI that the idea of Middle Earth was born.
As I’d rock in the wrought iron glider James had purchased, I met this man and read his books. As I watched our children play in our neighborhood—James now long gone—then later, inside the bourse, in the privacy of broken hearts, held them when they fell into their panic that I’d somehow disappear forever and they’d be alone, Tolkien made me alive inside the resilience and wisdom born from paths trod of pain. His voice let me live inside worlds I wanted to be called to. Made me lift my sword to a foe that read seemed too big except in newfound fearlessness instead asked me for mercy.
And trauma and grief had settled in to terrorize my girls but through Tolkien’s words and his magical retelling of his difficult life, he bore people of strength and tenderness into possibility.
Only From the trials of his youth did he persevere through fighting greater causes and mightier foes.
And on my porch, rocking in that glider–watching the children I loved more than anything ingesting unwanted trauma; myself inside vulnerability I dared not yet admit—Tolkien taught me that life will be fraught but that when the tender hearts are forced to face the shadows, they get to rise to a greater wisdom.
For though much in life is simply endured, for beauty and love much is also created. And when the tender heart needs a voice, you must make a world for it to live in.