Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More lessons of manhood from the Inklings

Continuing in with the theme of an earlier post, I wanted to share a few more principles of manhood I learned from the Inklings:

Wisdom matters
Edmund was a graver and quieter man than Peter, and great in council and judgment.” The Hunt for the White Stag, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The might of Elrond is in wisdom not in weapons, it is said.” The Council of Elrond, The Fellowship of the Ring

The importance of wisdom is a theme that weaves throughout all the works of the Inklings, and it caught my eye from youth. Even as a lad I was enamored of the image of King Edmund the Just, wise in council, even more than with the High King as a leader or warrior. And in Tolkien's works, great figures such as Elrond and Gandalf and even Aragorn displayed the value of wisdom over raw force and power.
Of course, as I grew older I realized that there was more to gaining wisdom than growing a white beard and sitting around talking about deep things. The Wisdom Books of Scripture especially helped me to understand that wisdom changes you – that if you truly seek wisdom, you will return from the journey a different person than you were when you started out. This is one reason true wisdom is so hard to obtain, far more difficult than simply learning reams of facts or gaining technical skill. Again the examples from the Inklings lore helped me grasp this: the price Gandalf paid to learn the truth about what happened to the One Ring after Isildur's fall, or the price Ransom paid in Perelandra to learn what he did.
But I credit their imaginative vision with helping me to understand the value of wisdom – that it is worth striving for, and to be treasured when found. I think that has been part of my lifelong urge to understand things, rather than just learn how to manipulate them.

Sometimes being a man means doing what needs to be done without calculation
Will you ride with me then, son of Arathorn? Maybe we shall cleave a road, or make such an end as will be worth a song – if any be left to sing of us hereafter.”
I will ride with you,” said Aragorn. Helm's Deep, The Two Towers
You may recognize this bit of dialog between King Théoden and Aragorn at Helm's Deep. The defenders were trammeled in by Saruman's orc hordes, and things were looking bleak. Théoden was proposing what looked like a suicide charge, for they had no knowledge of the help that was even then coming to aid them. Even so, Aragorn agrees to accompany him.
But anyone familiar with the story knows that in the Big Picture, the struggle between Rohan and Saruman was a side struggle. It certainly was part of the greater war against Sauron, but the Main Event was the showdown between Gondor and Mordor. That was Aragorn's ultimate goal, even from their departure from Rivendell and before. It was only by strange chance that he had gotten embroiled in this regional struggle.
In light of that, Aragorn's unhesitating agreement to ride with Théoden might seem reckless. Had he been prudent, had he pulled back and weighed his options, we wonder if he might have come to a different conclusion. The main war was in the east, which was also to be his kingdom if they came through this, and that was the price of his bride. That was an awful lot to risk on a death-or-glory charge in a backwater fortress. Perhaps better to lie low, perhaps slip away in the darkness and live to fight another day?
Aragorn's determination to do what was necessary displays what I think a vital aspect of true manhood. Wisdom and prudence are important (see point above), but sometimes one has to decide that the game is worth the candle and do what must be done, regardless of risk. Here wisdom comes to our aid, in helping us decide what causes are worth such risks.

Men don't leave dirty jobs for others
I have no help to send, therefore I must go myself.” Aragorn, The Passing of the Grey Company, The Return of the King
Another consistent theme in the works of the Inklings is that a mark of noble manhood is shouldering difficult burdens. This stands in stark contrast to the adolescent desire to avoid hard tasks, or find some way to “stick” someone else with them. Accepting difficulty without shirking is the way that character, and civilizations are built.

Men make it easier for those who follow
Pippin marveled at [Boromir's] strength, seeing the passage that he had already forced with no other tool than his great limbs. Even now, burdened as he was, he was widening the track for those who followed, thrusting the snow aside as he went. The Ring Goes South, The Fellowship of the Ring
Related to the point above is the idea that a man strives to ease the burden of those who follow him. This image, and many others throughout the works of the Inklings, has served as an ideal for me for years. The example of Boromir and many others has encouraged me to look beyond just discharging immediate task to see where and how I could help make the path easier for those who follow. I haven't always succeeded, but the ideal has been there for me to strive for.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The next 30 years

Yesterday Ellen and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.  In a way the celebration has been going on all month - last weekend we had a long visit with most of the kids and all the grandkids in celebration - but yesterday was The Day.  We had a quiet day away, just us two, running over to Frankenmuth to be "fudgies" for the day (something that Ellen pointed out we'd never done without little ones!)  It was subdued and low-budget, but all the more charming for that.  Lunch in the snack shop at Bronner's - where we took all the time we wished to browse around - and a dinner of sausages and cheese and veggies and wine at a little roadside park on the shores of Lake Huron.  Someday we may be able to do something more costly, like retrace our honeymoon route (not that that would be all that expensive), but this year a subdued celebration seemed more appropriate.

For some reason the 30th is making me stop and think more than, say, the 25th did, even though the 25th is supposed to be the more notable milestone.  Perhaps it's because our life circumstances are truly different now.  On our 25th we still had kids in school, and were in the thick of graduations and open houses and all.  We lived in the same house we'd lived in for 20 years, and things were pretty much as they'd been for most of our marriage.

Now, at 30 years, we live in a different house, are more or less empty nesters, and our focus is shifting from supporting our children to supporting our children's families.  Also, three decades is a long time - longer than some people's entire lives, and (sadly) longer than many marriages last.  It's the kind of span of time that causes one - or at least one like me - to meditate on the path traveled, and how well or poorly one has done along it.  I'm probably a poor judge standing at a poor vantage point, but I'm pondering more things.

If there's one thing 30 years has taught me it's the importance of love.  Not just romantic, "in-loveness" love, but sacrificial charity that gets up every morning and expends effort on behalf of others.  That's the love that bears fruit.  What we've achieved in 30 years of marriage has been due to that kind of love.  The feelings come and go and come again, and they're great in their way.  But the thing that matters, the thing I can build on, is that Ellen is always there, and will always love me.

That's why 30 years is, in a sense, a big deal, but in another sense it's not.  We didn't leap 30 years in a single jump, but in thousands of little jumps: each day we got up and by God's grace stayed true to the vows we'd taken to one another.  He promised to help us keep them, and He did.  That's why the next 30 aren't that intimidating: so long as they come at us one day at a time, we'll handle them the way we handled the first 30.