“I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
“So do I and 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.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
I have seen a lot of suffering lately. It seems to be springing up all around me, including in people very dear to me. There are diverse causes, and to some extent it doesn’t really matter what they are. Yes, some of the suffering has been preventable—either by the people themselves, or by others. But much of it, like the times in which we live, has not been a matter for them or us to decide.
To some extent this is the case in human life. There is always high drama and high stakes. Yet there are certain times that deserve the denomination ‘such times’—the kind you generally would not choose, where circumstances especially threaten the real human good and so demand more of each of us.
Lack of vision and integrity in leaders, predatory behavior, social habits that ensnare and maim, revered institutions gone bad, friendships imploding, technologies that suffocate, isolation turning into alienation, political upheaval and economic woes. Sicknesses that seem to come out of nowhere. And so for many, happiness overwhelmed, innocence lost, hope undermined. Even and especially among the young.
It is fitting to recognize that we live in ‘such times.’ But then what? We will face various temptations: hand-wringing; why-me-ing; finger-pointing; fear mongering; moping; complaining; despairing.
What is really given to us, however—at risk of sounding trite—is the gift of a lifetime. Right now. The chance to rise to the occasion, and to decide, ‘what to do with the time that is given to us.’
Later in Tolkien’s book, another character Sam returns to the same key theme, reflecting on the heroes of the stories of old who found themselves in very bad circumstances. “Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way… But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t.”
Perhaps one good answer to the question ‘what to do’ is simply not to turn back. Turning back can take different forms—there are many faces of ‘giving up.’
Sam notes that the heroes in the stories “just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you: at least not what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end.”
Ah! What does it take to see that the best of endings might not look, from here, like a good ending! Our simple perseverance in fidelity, with the best cheer we can muster, can be part and parcel of an ending that is good beyond our imagining.
And indeed, as Sam concludes, “Don’t the great tales never end?”
~ ~ ~
Recently we have been rereading Lord of the Rings as a family. It has been a signal blessing, providing us with powerful images of good and evil, and so also lending occasion to reflect upon both.
Join the Community.
Become a LifeCraft Member and gain access to our online courses and exclusive content. It's FREE of charge. Period.
If you join as a contributing member, you will help make this content available to an increasing audience and enable me to spend more time in this work. I thank you in advance.
Join the LifeCraft community today and get access to:
- Man of the Household (Course)
- Woman of the Household (Course)
- Concepts Made Clear (Mini-course)
- Dinner at Home (Mini-course)
“Well, you see, my property is enough to supply me with all my needs...” Socrates, in Xenophon’s Estate Manager While Socrates was not destitute, the value of his estate was relatively low. Yet he expresses gratitude for his financial situation. He assures his friend...
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Proverbs Our failure to see the natural roles of husband and wife has real consequences. This stands to reason. When we miss the difference and...
“Beautiful things are those which please when seen.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae This much is clear if we have eyes to see: beauty is a first principle in the formation of the world. We could even say it is the principle. The natural world and all its processes...
Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.