All stories live and die on their relationships. I have found the sweetest of relationships in, of all things, a three-volume fantasy novel — J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. This story about hobbits (pint-sized creatures noted for hairy feet), wizards, elves, dwarves, men and the One Gold Ring has stayed with me since I first read the books in the 1960s.
I definitely relate to Frodo, an ordinary hobbit called to
extraordinary heroism. His task is to destroy the powerful One Ring in the furnace of Mount Doom. When Frodo decides to leave his companions and go alone to Mount Doom, his friend Sam insists on accompanying him. The two hobbits, alone and often lost in the wilderness, suffer hunger, thirst and cold; struggle to avoid the spies and soldiers of the evil Sauron; and meet up with Gollum, who once possessed the Ring himself.
A part of the appeal of Lord of the Ring is the language, evocative of heroic times. Reminiscent of the Iliad’s use of epithets, Tolkien identifies the characters by their lineage: Aragorn, son of Arathorn; Gimli, Gloin’s son; Frodo, son of Drogo. The speeches are stirring. Gandalf the Wizard describes his return from the dead this way: “Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time. … I was alone, forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world.” Galadriel, an elf queen, tells Frodo and his companions, “[Y]our Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the Company is true.”
But it is the relationships that melt my heart. There are many kinds of love in Lord of the Rings: Aragorn and Arwen’s pure love; the camaraderie of the young hobbits Merry and Pippin; the friendship of traditional adversaries, the elf Legolas and the dwarf Gimli, the love of many of the knights for their lords. The tender affection between Frodo and Sam is blended so subtly into the action and fantasy that it took me a long time to notice it.
Like the other hobbits, I took Sam for granted. He packed the pots and pans. He took care of the ponies. He was the skeptical voice when Aragorn wanted to join the group. He checked Merry and Pippin’s exuberance. But, as he and Frodo pressed on in their perilous journey to Mount Doom, Sam’s courage, resourcefulness and devotion to Frodo became clear.
When Frodo, holding the Ring, becomes too weak to continue, Sam says, “Come, Mr. Frodo! … I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”
At the end of their journey, they are spotted from the air by the Wind Lord: “two small dark figures, … hand in hand, upon a little hill.”
I have not been tasked with such a desperate Quest as Frodo. Yet, over the years, I have worked very hard to achieve goals important to me. These include caring for my patients, raising my son Alex to be a righteous person and seeing my parents through to the very end. It has occurred to me only lately that I was not alone on these quests. Bill was with me every step.
We started dating when we were middle-aged. We both had demanding jobs and we both had children. I like to think of our living room the months after we blended our households as a metaphor for our life together. We had so much furniture that we didn’t have room to set the sofas down from their upended position where the movers had left them.
We scrambled. Sometimes, we felt as desperate as Frodo and Sam. Bill dictated patients’ charts into a tape recorder while driving. I was always late to pick up Alex from after school care. We ate take out and ordered in pizza. We each had our weekends to work, and got phone calls at any hour.
Time passed. The kids left home. We got jobs that didn’t require being on call. Everything eased, except for the three years when my parents lived with us. Then the parents died and we retired.
We’ve been retired for seven years now. We spend our time staying in shape, cooking (me), gardening (him), home repair (neither of us wants to do it), tennis, golf, yoga, travel. Oh, and I decided to write a book review blog.
As time freed up for Bill, he took over doing many of the chores. It happened so naturally that I didn’t notice. He took over total cat care: food, water, litter, and later, meds. He vacuums the basement for our weekly yoga session. Way back when, I taught Bill how to use the Mr. Coffee. Now, every morning, he has coffee ready for me.
Bill prepares all the tennis equipment. He packs the car with the rackets, two water jugs, my distance glasses, a towel, wrist bands and a paper towel which I use to blow my nose. In the summer, there’s also an ice chest with cold neck wraps.
He goes with me to writing conferences and to medical conferences. He does not balk at trips to see Alex and his family in Virginia. When did Bill become my Sam?
I suppose he has always been. I just wasn’t paying attention. When I had trouble with administrators at work, Bill insisted, “You did nothing wrong. They are jerks.” Whatever enthusiasms I develop — opera! watercolor! blogging! bird watching! — he’s there with me. (In all honesty, he has enjoyed most of our adventures.)
These days, we walk a lot for exercise. If an eagle, or Wind Lord, were to spot us from the air, we’d be hand in hand on the sidewalks of our neighborhood, just like Frodo and Sam.
Tell me: Who or what is your idea of love? (No biggie!)