My husband and I had the relatively rare occurrence of a long weekend in which we had made no plans—except to stay at home and relax. We decided to revisit The Lord of the Rings film trilogy by watching one film each night of the weekend. As we watched, we were reminded of the powerful themes of good and evil, power and corruption, military conquest and its ecological impact and how hope is found in unexpected or unseen places. I continue to be amazed by the relevance and impact of these fantasy novels, adapted for film and written over sixty years ago.
In one of the climactic scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring, the young hobbit Frodo laments the world he sees around him with all of its tragedy and darkness. Looking at the difficulty in continuing on the path laid out before him, Frodo mourns, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” His ever-wise counselor and friend, Gandalf the Grey, consoles him with these words: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”(1)
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. Watching this scene and hearing these words echoes within me as I look out onto the world. There are always crises of one sort or another that might make even the strongest among us pine for different times, crises that make us wish our journey would be a different and far more pleasant trip. The recent shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, the terrorist rampage in New York City, and the almost daily bombings all around the world give us all-too-familiar examples. The seeming randomness of violence upends any sense of security in a world that is far beyond our control. We long for peace and stability. But often such is not the time that is given to us.
With an unstable world and the fear that instability naturally engenders, how does one find hope? What are we to do with the times we’ve been given? For many, flights of fantasy, wishful thinking, or simply burying heads in the sand offers a strategy for coping. Yet, even the desire to escape—through pleasure, distraction, or nostalgia—belies a longing for something more, something different, and something better. These longings speak to us of what could be and can motivate action for good here and now with the time that is given to us. As Gandalf rightly counseled, “[T]here are other forces at work in this world… beside the will of evil.”