(The following is a meditation on a couple passages from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Rings, a work or movie with which many readers may be familiar.)
In his fight with the Ringwraiths on Weathertop, Frodo is wounded and begins to fade. The wound also seems the worse for Frodo having worn the ring of power during the fight. Bilbo had also complained of this fading to Gandalf: “Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”
Initially the fear is that Frodo is becoming thin and as formless as the Ringwraiths. Looking at Frodo who is healing in Rivendell, Gandalf notices “a hint as it were of transparency.” However, Gandalf says to himself, “Still that must be expected. He is not half through yet, and to what he will come in the end not even Elrond can foretell. Not to evil, I think. He may become like a glass filled with a clear light for eyes to see that can.”
Although I have not battled Ringwraiths on Weathertop, I feel stretched. I carry some wounds from my nearness to evil. Some Myrtle Point kids who came to Sunday school have grown up only to go to jail. Others have embraced the slow suicide of drugs and alcoholism. Many of those I teach at the college are deeply wounded—some abandoned by fathers, some caring for mothers. Most of those who aren’t wounded are wandering.
And I am now old enough to watch older friends and family struggle with the frailty of our bodies. Wives are losing husbands they have loved for years. Husbands are trying to find a way to keep going after losing a wife who was like the rising of the sun. Sickness ravages some families year after year. It is all too sad. It stretches the heart too far.
I am weary of mourning the wounds of the young and the losses of the old. Spiritual death seems to grab the young without opposition and physical death plays craps with the elderly. There are too many requests on “the prayer chain.” Love and hope are stretched. The story of so many I love is a long litany of missed opportunities and “if only’s”.
Some respond to all this by growing a thicker skin, a harder heart. We are tempted to overcome the darkness in the world by letting the darkness into our hearts, by pitting our hardness against the world’s. As we age, we can choose angry bitterness or grim resignation.
But it may be possible to choose the fate Gandalf hopes for Frodo. Perhaps the stretching of our hearts can make us transparent—free of pretense, utterly honest and self-less in our service. The stretching of our hearts might allow us to love more deeply and give more generously. Perhaps we can become “a glass filled with clear light.” I hope.