Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Four Steps to Being a Hobbit

I decided, in a flurry of motivation yesterday, that I will make a New Year’s Resolution after all.

Therefore, in the presence of these witnesses, I hereby resolve to be a hobbit.

If you wonder what this involves, or if it just sounds so intriguing that you want to join me in this year-long adventure, then read on. Here are four ways I’m going to be a hobbit in 2013.

Have hairy feet.
Just kidding. Although I did receive a pair of tan socks with sprigs of brown curly yarn sewn onto them as a thank-you gift for helping set-up a second breakfast on my campus. Fun fact.

Make good food.
I learned something this year: it’s actually fairly easy to make homemade bread. I feel like my whole life there has been this giant myth about how difficult it is to bake bread from scratch, and that only crazy anachronistic people even bother trying. I mean, you wouldn’t spend all day boiling your clothes in a metal pot and scrubbing them on washboards with lye, right? Just go with convenience.

Except it’s all a lie, because any extra work involved in baking bread is made up for by its deliciousness. Hobbits understand this. They know how to appreciate good food and have several extra meals to do it with, actually.

I’m not the best cook; I honestly just follow directions on recipes and check the oven obsessively so that nothing gets burnt. Real cooking, the kind on the Food Channel and in fancy restaurants, takes a lot more than that, a special talent. But hobbit cooking, where you make and enjoy a simple good meal, is something I can do, because it doesn’t necessarily take skill. It takes the desire to dedicate time to something that will be consumed in a half hour. It takes believing that it’s worth it.

Maybe baking bread isn’t your thing. But remember that sometimes things that take more effort are also more worth doing.

Enjoy the simple things.
For Bilbo, it’s a smoke on a pipe, carefully crafted letters drawn in ink, a perfectly blackened fish, and his mother’s doilies. Gandalf later reproaches him for putting those things above what he ought to be doing, but I think that, for the most part, it’s good to be able to love the small pleasures in life, to keep the familiar fresh by caring about it. There aren’t a lot of parties and promotions and triumphs and other large-scale exciting events in the average person’s life. If you wait to be happy until then, and only during those times, you’ll spend most of your life joylessly working toward them. That’s why I want to love the sound of rain, the way little kids laugh, the way words strung together can somehow communicate truth. Tiny miracles, all of them, and remembering them on a daily basis is one of the keys to enjoying life.

Accept average. 
Most of us, I think, want to be heroes. I’ve been reading some epic fiction recently, and every time I encounter a protagonist who is brilliant, courageous, or otherwisely incredibly gifted in some area, I get a little jealous. I want to save the world, but I am hopelessly average, weak, cowardly, and just smart enough to realize I’ll never be a genius.

But guess what? Larger-than-life heroes are quite literally larger-than-life. They don’t fit in our world, in an average day on an average planet surrounded by unremarkable and frustrating people. I fit in this world. Just barely, some days. I don’t belong here, but here I am, ready to live out my average life with as much conviction as possible.

In the same way, what makes hobbits so endearing is the fact that they are much like us, but deeper, somehow. Surprising. They can think quickly, love others, and demonstrate fierce loyalty and great willpower.

I think—I’m not sure, mind you—but I think I can do that. Because those things are choices, not natural abilities or levels of skill too high to attain. For Bilbo, bravery was a side-effect of something deeper: his loyalty to others in the party. That loyalty was based on a set of beliefs that he held even while in the Shire, like the value of friendship, the importance of protecting the weak and doing good when you can, and the conviction that the safety of others is more important than your own. These beliefs are what made him the kind of hobbit who, while not brave in the strict sense, would go on an adventure when the opportunity presented itself.

Maybe you and I are stuck in ordinary times, in the 400 years of peace in the Shire before Gandalf came knocking. But I still believe that the average bravery of a hobbit describes the kind of person I want to be, whether or not any real adventure comes my way.

Love home.
Here I’m going to do the unthinkable: disagree with Gandalf the Grey. I think Bilbo was right to be hesitant to take up a quest that had nothing to do with him. I think, under most circumstances, staying in the Shire would be preferable to going off on adventure simply for its own sake. Now, because the dwarfs needed him, I think Bilbo made the right choice in the end, but there is nothing wrong with his simple longing for home and comfort. When he marched through the forest in the rain or woke in a cave surrounded by smelly dwarves, I can imagine Bilbo was thinking, “This is not how things should be. I should be tucked into a warm hobbit hole drinking tea and reading a good book.”

And he’s right. That’s how things should be. But they weren’t.

I know the feeling. Sometimes, I get so frustrated with the all that’s messed-up in this world that I want to hide somewhere and never come out. But even that wouldn’t help, because I am broken too. I can’t even make myself into an example of how things should be. All I can do is love home—and truth, and beauty, and goodness, and all of the other things we corrupted in the Fall—and let that love influence what I do.

Too many Christians suffer from contentment with this life. They’re the ones who become confused and angry when hard times finally come. The way to develop faith is not denying that there is injustice and suffering, but first admitting that things here are broken and then living to bring restoration and reconciliation in a thousand small ways.

Adventures, I’m told, are dreadful things that make you late for dinner. If you want an easy New Year’s Resolution, I’d suggest a gym membership. But if, like me, you want to live a meaningful life, then it’s time to do something brave.

Let’s go be hobbits.

1 comment:

  1. For the record...hobbits are great. Especially Frodo and Pippin.
    ...even though my favorite LotR character is an amaaaazingly wonderful Elf and my favorite Hobbit character is a very handsome Dwarf.... =D