My favorite lines in The Hobbit come at the very beginning of the story when Gandalf seeks out Bilbo and asks him to join him on an adventure:
I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.
I should think so–in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,” said our Mr. Baggins….
If Alaska is the Adventure, I am Bilbo Baggins.
I periodically swap book reflections and ideas with a dear friend via texting conversations. In January she and I were having a Texting Book Club session when she commented that she had recently read The Snow Child and thought of me and our Alaskan adventure. I’m an avid reader, but in the years since my head injury my annual reading list is much more heavily populated with nonfiction than fiction – ironically it’s sort of hard for me to stay tuned in to the story. But the text review from my friend, while not glowing, was enough to interest me so I looked the book up on our library website and discovered it was the Anchorage Reads book choice this year and there were actually a variety of scheduled library events centered on the book and related topics. I checked out the book, read it and enjoyed it. And of course I copied down this line:
“Dear, sweet Mabel,” she (Esther) said. “We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end up or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?”
I recognize truth in these words with painful admission. The thing is: I want to know where I’ll end up and how I’ll fare. More than that. I want the results to be good and meaningful and not to hurt. I really do feel like life throws me this way and that and I’m very often afraid that the stories will end badly.
In my life’s work to find goodness in the shadows of grief, it seemed like the line “Tell me, when have you felt most alive” was a sorry attempt to justify the cruel methods of adventure and infuse it with life, goodness and hope. When I read it I didn’t like it.
I was wrestling with this line when our family attended the library’s Build a Snow Child Family Event several weeks ago. We decided to check out the afternoon event without any real thought to participating, but when we arrived we couldn’t resist the ease of joining in. There were categories and prizes after all!
We quickly realized the snow was was not very packable and not many creations were being built upwards. We began scooping snow together and talking about the shape it should take. As we worked I was flooded with recognition: Engaged. Spontaneous. Creative. Together. In these very moments of this crazy adventure our family was at its best.
Our ideas came together and the final product evolved with contributions from each of us. In the end, we won much praise and the first prize for Snow Child in the “Most Alaskan” category. The boys had first pick of the prizes and came away with a new orange sled.
I came away with this: I may not get to choose the adventure but I get to choose how I engage it and that has the capacity to fill me with life and goodness, joy and hope.
And in the end hopefully it’ll be said of me, as Gandalf said of Bilbo: “Excitable little fellow….Get’s funny queer fits, but he is one of the best, one of the best-as fierce as a dragon in a pinch.”