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A number of months ago, I wrote a reflection on being written into the story, inspired by Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee’s dialogue in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers. They had paused mid-mission to wonder “what sort of tale” they had fallen into. They imagined what a father and son might say to each other while reading about them. They reflected on how stories never end, but characters come and go. And Sam longed for the time that their part of the story might be finished: “And then, we can have some rest and some sleep. And I mean just that, Mr. Frodo. I mean plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning’s work in the garden. I’m afraid that’s all I’m hoping for all the time.”
Having only read the trilogy a couple of times and long ago, I was surprised and delighted (in my current read-through with my oldest) by the return of the story-telling thread toward the end of The Return of the King. Frodo and Sam have destroyed the Ring and are waiting to perish in a sea of chaos. In what he thinks is their final conversation, Frodo says, “‘Hopes fail. An end comes. We have only a little time to wait now. We are lost in ruin and downfall, and there is no escape.'”
“They stood now; and Sam still holding his master’s [wounded] hand caressed it. He sighed. ‘What a tale we have been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we?’ he said. ‘I wish I could hear it told! Do you think they’ll say: Now comes the story of the Nine-fingered Frodo and the Ring of Doom? And then everyone will hush… I wish I could hear it! And I wonder how it will go on after our part’” (228-229).
Even in the midst of what he thinks are his final moments, Sam expresses his longing to hear his story and to know how the story will continue after he is gone.
I am reminded of a dear woman in our congregation, who knows her end is near. Nearly 85 years old and no longer able to speak, due to the progression of her ALS, she talked to me the other day by pointing to letters, one by one, on a laminated page:
Anticipating the end, she has spent much of her time in these last months using her tablet to write stories about her siblings, her parents, her late husband – and now also letters to her children. Like Sam, she wonders how the story will go on after her part is over.
Now, those who have not read Tolkien’s trilogy will have to pardon the spoiler. Frodo and Sam do not perish, but are rescued by Gandalf and the eagles and are brought to the safety of Ithilien for healing and sleep. When they awake, they are thrown a banquet of praise and celebration, during which a minstrel takes the stage.
‘Lo! Lords and knights and men of valour unashamed, kings and princes, and fair people of Gondor, and Riders of Rohan, and ye sons of Elrond, and Dúnedain of the North, and Elf and Dwarf, and greathearts of the Shire, and all free folk of the West, now listen to my lay. For I will sing to you of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom.’
And when Sam heard that he laughed aloud for sheer delight, and he stood up and cried ‘O great glory and splendor! And all my wishes have come true!’ And then he wept.
And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness. (232)
There were moments in my most recent visit with the 84 year old living saint that were tinged with the silver and gold of her words. I hope that there will be times in her funeral service (which she is helping me to plan) that wound us with sweet words and joy like swords. But I like to think that the deepest truth of all, is that there will be a time when “everything sad comes untrue” (another quote from Samwise Gamgee) and we gather at the wedding supper of the Lamb. The clear voice of The Minstrel will rise and all the women and men will hush. And He will sing to us in the tongues of every tribe and nation until our hearts overflow and we look around and see that we are in the Region where pain and delight flow together and tears have been transformed into the very wine of blessedness.
Amen. So let it be.