I’ve sat with these four words as a prompt for writing for as many months but my thoughts never came together on the page. I considered the physical journey from my home state to the state that felt like home and the abrupt boomerang that took us back. It seemed logical that the home state return was the invitation to write it all down. To share the learnings, experiences and insights of the to and fro. But it wasn’t – and so I waited. I’d like to say patiently, but expeditious has always been my tendency and so my waiting was in a state of active wondering, seeking and listening. I read more than I have in decades and found a creative flow that had been running just under the surface for some time. I journaled, spoke, recorded, programmed, administrated and planned. I gained clarity on projects and visions I had held for the better part of a decade and insight into elements of my character that, while useful in some situations, have been severely limiting to my capacity in others. A tortuous and sometimes torturous course sent us there and back again again.
When I consider the classic literature and cinematography from which these four words are taken, it is impossible to avoid comparison with the journey and mission taken by the Fellowship of the Ring, and, for me, the experience of Frodo in the epic adventure.
Comparative essays were my favorite assignment in high school English class. As often as I could, I was weaving Dave Matthews Band lyrics into the immortal words of Shakespeare and finding the correlation of human experience through art separated by genres, decades and cultural divides. My own journey these past four years has brought me to consider my there and back againand the likeness to that of the cohort in Middle Earth, brought so brilliantly to life by Peter Jackson.
As I consider Frodo’s experience – never wanting the responsibility but understanding it was uniquely for him to endure with success made possible only by the diverse strengths of the collective and particularly those of his greatest ally, Sam – I see my own. As I shared this consideration with my greatest ally, my husband, his response was that it seemed unfair, unkind to compare any of the locations we had lived to the fires of Mordor and I agreed, which led me to the realization that the likeness was not in the geography or the external encounters, but rather the internal struggle and transformation that Frodo experienced and so these words are now ready.
In the past few years becoming familiar with (and ultimately a super fan girl of) Brené Brown’s work, I found myself equally inspired and dismayed – I agreed wholeheartedly with her philosophy, mantras and recommendations, but it seemed to me that without a great fall, there was limited capacity to rise strong. I honestly remember thinking, “well, nothing that bad has ever happened to me, so I’m not sure if I can fully apply these principles.” Retrospectively I see this could have been achieved simply by daring greater or by applying a lens of relativity to the scope of “bad things” but apparently I needed a more obvious lesson in direct experience to feel legitimate in the arena of life and so the universe intervened, offering me opportunity to experience the proverbial dirt and blood of life’s trials and tribulations.
I’ve written previously about the various challenges of the past year – injury, mentorship gone wrong, apocalyptic smoke, the chaotic up-rooting and tenuous replanting of our family – and even through all of these, likely because of all of these, it was not until we were in a seemingly settled place – nice home, new work, walkable school, building community – that the moment arrived and it was time to see how I held up in the arena.
Long overdue conversations and concerns were continually pushed aside as the eye was focused on survival, on immediate, but superficial, threats, the distractions of daily life and the endless to do list of tasks that pushed one day into the next. Frustrations originating from internal chaos funneled into festering concerns about work and school, manifesting as the desire to revolutionize one system or another as my creative, problem-solving energy was likewise misdirected.
Ultimately it was on my birthday, with the review of a simple but profound book some 20 years after my initial reading, that the chaos paused long enough for me to hear clearly, for perhaps the first time, the true concerns that I had left unaddressed for the better part of my life – and now there were no distractions remaining.
While the focus was turned, an army had been amassed – resentment, anger, disappointment, sense of failure, self-loathing, regret, shame – and the only path toward victory lay uniquely with me. No one else could solve this or soothe this. No dialogue, achievement, praise, exception, qualification, book or success could correct, shift, undo or fix this problem, this crisis, this terminal threat that I faced. Adding to the challenge was the realization that I had enabled the power of this evil collective by pretending, perhaps hoping, I was immune – through avoidance and external victories, busyness and focus on others, seeing the possibility of health everywhere except within.
We have a household mantra of accepting the opportunity and responsibility that each person is 100% in charge of his or her thoughts, feelings and actions. This phrase I have so often shared with my littles now required my direct attention and immediate action. Whether I viewed myself as primary opponent or leading general of this ugly army was irrelevant – the lens of the oneness of life and the simple fact that it existed in my world created personal responsibility for my fate and that of my universe. Would I brave the wilderness, rise strong and dare to lead from within, shedding toxicity, turmoil and torment to invite peace into my heart and, as a most welcome natural consequence, into my world?
And so it was, led by the battle cry of many crucial conversations and moments of self-realization that I sent the ring of doubt, assumptions and ego into the fire and in so doing, the army was eradicated. The deafening void was overwhelming at first – the landscape looked so different – desolate from the toxic energy of the army that had occupied it for so long. As the dust settled, there were patches of green and even the occasional blossom along with the allies who had long stood beside me, patient and hopeful for my successful return to self – unable to make the journey for me but willing to carry me as far as they could.
And so it was that I could return to the shire of my soul, never free of the memories of the experience, but strengthened rather than strained by them with a deeper clarity of self, story, resilience and whole-heartedness. We cannot hide from darkness or pretend it isn’t there. Just yesterday, as I worked through editing, I commented to a friend that I hesitated to publish this as it felt so dark and we agreed that it was necessary to know, acknowledge and stand together in the darkness and, of course, Brené affirmed this in her own post this morning:
We must support one another, especially in times of darkness. And just as There and Back Again was actually the prequel to Frodo’s tale, it serves as a foundation for me to honor my role in the story of life – as the bearer of the ring or a member of the fellowship for another on their journey. And as Frodo assured his dearest friend, there is certainly room for a little bit more.
I will not look away, I will look within, I will stand beside and I will go there and back again for the health of all things, starting with me.
May we find strength and bravery to endure through the darkness, to find the light within ourselves and for each other – united in the fellowship of the ring of the universe unfolding.