My father once told me that life was a repeating cycle of
Last year we moved. It was a frantic, sweating hurry of a year. Now we’ve settled into a season when nothing much is going on. Friends ask me about what’s happening in my life, and I scramble for gardening anecdotes. I’m smack dab in the middle of a “wait.”
During these stretches of plodding normalcy, I find myself frustrated. The folks in my community are quick to remind me of the value of the ordinary things I do each day. Writers and musicians at Story Warren and the Rabbit Room and dozens of other wonderful people shine the light of the eternal on my mundane. Sometimes I want to punch them. There’s nothing about washing urine-soaked sheets that feels significant. I have all this passion, this creative energy, that seems to have no outlet, and the very air I breathe seems choked with trivia, with absurdities.
I’ve looked back on what people endured during the Great Depression, during World War II, and been glad to have escaped those times. But there is a dreadful sort of clarity that comes with war and disaster. At least then, we have a better idea of the part we play. We see more clearly what things really matter. Some days I long for a battle to fight. If I could carry a sword in my hand, I think, and run full-tilt onto a battlefield, I would weep tears of gratitude. But I have no sword. I have a keyboard and a spatula.
My son asked me if I would read The Lord of the Rings to him this summer. We finished the day before yesterday, and I cried so much that some of the final passages were hardly intelligible. Tolkien has a way of linking beautiful phrases one after the other, of firing, in quick succession, words so moving you cannot catch your breath. His characters know who they are. They understand the tasks set before them. They laugh in the face of despair and “love not their lives to the death.” Their story is glorious, and until you have read these books, I advise you to drop everything. Bring your life to a screeching halt, grab the tissue box, and turn to page 1. Be warned, though. You might close that huge red volume and slide it back onto the shelf with a sense of ambivalence.
The gorgeous clarity of Middle Earth makes my world feel tragically silly. I am Eowyn, and the walls of my bower close in on me, and I rattle my spatula against the bars of my cage. But I have no battle to ride out to, no Nazgul to slay, no renown to claim. I am Frodo, a lover of my land and of simple things, but I have no Ring to destroy, no map marked with an “X” to guide me to the saving of the world. I come to the end of an epic story, and I feel empty.
Then again, the major events of this thousand-page adventure take place in the span of one year. During that year, months of travel and rest are acknowledged with only a sentence or two. Like all storytellers, Tolkien skips the waiting. That’s the way of it. You get five minutes of “wait” and three hundred pages of “HURRY!” Whole lives are concentrated into eight hours of satisfying reading.
I wonder what sort of tale I’ve fallen into, Reader. If the orchestra would start up and the music drift in from the wings, then I’d have some clue. A bobbing tuba line might indicate a comedy or farce, and if the violins soar, I might guess at a romance. Trouble is, I’ve got no soundtrack, and the last major plot point was a year ago. What do I do when the landscape is featureless, when a pause becomes a fermata? If I were editing the life of Helena Sorensen, this section would end up on the cutting room floor.
We’re quick to say that life is short, but I wonder if it’s only retrospect that makes it seem so. The day-in, day-out living of a life is a lengthy ordeal. It’s not for the faint of heart, this “long obedience in the same direction.” According to my father, it’s about 80% wait. I suppose that’s one of the chief beauties of our elders. They understand the wait. We see how far they’ve gone, how long it’s taken, how often their hopes were disappointed. We see their triumphs, too, and the gentle patience that comes of living year after year after year in this weary world.
It’s a comfort to know they’ve walked these roads before me. Beautiful and terrible things will come. If I’m trudging along the barren country west of the Misty Mountains, then Caradhras and Moria and Lorien are up ahead.
I should rest while I can, and pack my sword.
Photo courtesy of the incomparable Donna Murray.