J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings is one of those books quoted in times of darkness. Because it is a story of good and evil, of hope and despair, there are many inspiring passages within it. This week, in yet another dark time in the history of this nation, one of these quotations passed across my newsfeed. Good old Sam, encouraging Frodo in his simple yet wise manner:
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 had 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. . . . That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
Someone remarked that Sam is the true hero of The Lord of the Rings, and that got me to thinking. Lord of the Rings is perhaps special in that rather than one true hero, it has many; a Fellowship of Heroes, if you will. Without Frodo all would have been lost. Without Aragorn all would have been lost. Even the flawed Boromir, overcome for a time by temptation, made a heroic sacrifice that contributed to victory. And yes, without Sam, all would most certainly have been lost. Further, in a very real sense, what was saved was saved for people just like Sam. If Sam can be a hero, so can we.
Each hero in this story has unique gifts and challenges. So what common denominator marks each as heroic. I believe it is in fact their single minded purpose. Each character fulfills their call to the best of their abilities. Take our Sam: his job in itself is not particularly heroic, but it is in the performance of his task that he becomes one. Is Sam’s job to take the ring to Mordor? No. Is Sam’s job even to be a warrior protector of the ring bearer? No. Sam keeps it simple: “ ‘Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee.’ And I don’t intend to.” His job, as he understands it from the beginning, is to love and serve his friend and master, Frodo. His job is the cooking and carrying. His job is to look after ponies and worry about having rope when it’s needed. His job is to carry Frodo when he is too tired or watch over him while he sleeps. Menial tasks. Sam knows he is a part of a larger story and, occasionally, he looks up at the big picture as in the quote above.
Every now and then, in pursuing his personal task, he finds himself up against a real occasion for storybook heroism. Yet this he does not seek it. It is in focusing on his small part and doing it faithfully that he contributes to the whole, not in bothering himself with the tasks of others or wishing for a different task himself.
In this is a lesson for all of us when we feel overwhelmed by the state of the world. When we despair and want to turn back, we ask: What can we do to keep on going? Let’s refocus on your task. What has God asked of you? It is likely that your job seems small and insignificant. It may seem far removed from the grave matters with which the world struggles. However, it is in doing these things—things that nobody may ever even notice—that we will heroically impact the big picture. It is also in following our own humble paths that we may be faced with truly great challenges. Humility, zeal in small things, this may be the bravest part.
What in the end was Sam’s job? To show love. To serve. These are noble callings indeed, wherever they are found. Let us all turn to the people placed in our lives that we are called to love and serve. Cook. Clean. Teach. Encourage. Support. Whatever your vocation there is loving service to be done within your own small sphere. Be not consumed with worries about tasks that are not yours. Pursue your calling with zeal wherever it leads. Who knows, you may be called in the end to extraordinary heroism yourself. Or it may just be that your small acts of love will sustain some other hero until their time is come.
It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.