“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…
“That’s right,” said Gandalf. “Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.”
When she was a teenager, the wise Alexander Z. introduced me to the epic, The Lord of the Rings, and I am still indebted. In the epic, there was courage and perseverance and all manner of things that make a person long to be heroic. But some of us are not naturally heroic and for those of us, The Hobbit and particularly Mr. Bilbo Baggins speak directly to our souls. These days I have been rereading the book to a rather small creature but not a hobbit. Of course, as an adult, I see even more of the reluctant Mr. Baggins in myself than I did as a child. I particularly love it when the dwarves sing, “Chip the glasses and crack the plates! Blunt the knives and bend the forks! That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates…” Yes, that’s what Bilbo Baggins hates and I hate it too. I love a clean and orderly home and long for the day when no one manages to smudge the sparkling glass and muddy the clean floor. But, alas, life has its suffering and glasses get smudged and floors get muddied no matter how many times we try to keep them clean.
In the dharma, we are told that all is impermanent and in the advertisements, we are told that all can be kept clean and orderly. But ultimately the ad exec must meditate under doctor’s order because his blood pressure is too high. And impermanence trumps perfection every time. Of course, in The Hobbit, Bilbo finds something within himself that lets him leave his orderly and comfortable home. Perhaps it is his long matrilineal line of adventurous Tooks or Gandalf’s conviction that he is the right hobbit for the adventure or his own self-respect before the questioning and skeptical dwarves. Regardless of reason, Bilbo moves beyond the comfort of his comfortable hole to the dangers of a big adventure. And while I do not long for a big and dangerous adventure, I do believe that there is much to learn in the tale of the rather small hobbit and a very big adventure. Indeed sometimes there is more to life than a comfortable and orderly hole in a comfortable and orderly hill and sometimes finding that something more makes all the difference in the world. Indeed that’s what Siddhartha learned when he left the luxury of the palace in search of that something more.
Maybe if Bilbo was a bodhisattva, he would be a bodhisattva for the meek, the orderly, the habitual – the type of person who can get really comfortable with a very predictable life but of course, life isn’t predictable. And so what do we do when Gandalf comes knocking at the door? Perhaps at first, we cower under the covers and hope the wise wizard moves past us but then just maybe, we see something in ourselves that believes in our abilities to move proverbial mountains. Perhaps we develop faith in ourselves and realize that we are a good deal more than we ever imagined.
There is a book that I learned about while listening to public radio, The Power of Habit. In the prologue, it speaks of a woman who scientists study because she managed to change many negative habits by changing one thought. She decided to cross the desert after a series of personal disappointments. From that one decision, she changed her bad habits and created new and lasting patterns that transformed her life. Maybe she too was following the Dharma according to Bilbo Baggins. When we change one thing, we change everything.
So, read a classic to a child and maybe, just maybe, in reading aloud that one book, everything will change in the life of the child and for you. Or subscribe to Parabola Magazine and maybe, just maybe, everything will change in the way you think and live. And open the door when Gandalf comes knocking and then without a doubt, everything will change.
For life is change whether we like it or not but if we can change, then we become participants in change and not victims of change.
Oh, and tell me: Are you a Bilbo Baggins or a Frodo or some other character from one of the most remarkable adventure stories of all time?