Awhile back I asked my sister how she was able to emotionally get through her PhD program.
“I read Lord of the Rings a few times. That kept me going.” She answered.
“Frodo and me, we were on a journey. Sometimes I’d be in my lab and I wasn’t sure if I could continue, but then I’d remember Frodo deep in Mordor, and so I’d take just one more step in the right direction.”
“Who was your Sam?” I asked.
My sister sighed, “Oh, I had many Sams.” And then she told me about the amazing people that helped her through her journey. Like Frodo, she would never have made it without her Sam.
A month ago, my kids and I finally finished an epic read-aloud of Lord of the Rings with two other families. We started back in 2009. Yes, it took four years to get through the books. (We also watched the movies afterwards.) Why did it take that long? Those four years contained such life-altering events for everyone involved, it’s amazing we got through the books at all.
The transition from child to teenager can be rocky, especially for friendships. Meeting together to hear a story, a good story, read out loud, was the one continuous part of the lives of these kids. It was something they had in common, at a time when their other interests were diverging, and life was taking them down different paths. It’s a memory they will always have together.
It was more than just normal life transitions that made it hard to stay committed for those involved. In fact, mid-way through The Two Towers, it had been five months since we had all last met. I turned to my kids and told them I wasn’t sure the read aloud was going to happen anymore–all the dates kept falling through. I told them we could finish it alone, but they didn’t want to. Just so they would know what happened, I told them we could watch the movies at least? We agreed to wait one more month before we gave up. The group started meeting again a couple weeks later.
To be very vague, we were part of a larger group of friends, and during this time period there were some messy divorces, which led to a complete upheaval of our social network. There were financial struggles, starting new careers, moving to new houses, etc. Plus, we had met as homeschooling parents, and during these years, some children started going to school, while other continued at home.
Looking back, I am amazed at the sheer number of life challenges and changes we three families faced during our time reading Lord of the Rings together. It was truly our own journey of epic proportions.
As for me, I felt very alone, trying to keep one foot in front of the other. People I thought were there, pulled away just when I needed them most. Others purposefully tried to sabotage my work, or hurt the people I cared about. But in each corner of my life, I had a Sam. Someone, out of nowhere, without asking, stood by me with encouraging words, or sharing the load when it was just too heavy that day.
When we had our final get-together, watching the extended version of The Return of the King, it was very emotional. Yes, we cried during the movie, but the three moms cried for more than that. We had been through so freakin’ much, but there we were with seven beautiful children, on the other side of it all. I found it so strange that the books and our lives had so much in common, so much to relate to. But perhaps that’s what makes a series like Lord of the Rings endure.
We have all been Frodo. We have all needed Sam. Together they saved their world. If we could only remember in our darkest moments to look for that unexpected hero, that person who is not there for glory, but steps in to help you out of love.
Who was your Sam?