"I will take the Ring," he said, "though I do not know the way." (1)
What is it to be a hero or heroine? We know what it is. All of our story books as well as our histories tell us. To be a hero is to find ourselves in the place and time where we are called on to do something hard, and to say "yes" in that face of that call. We don't choose whether or not that call will come. We don't choose where we will be in that moment or what the challenge is that will call us into action. All we choose is whether or not, in each of those moments, we will say "yes" to the call or not. When we don't have any idea how to do what we are called to do, when we "do not know the way" but we choose to do it anyway because we see it is something that needs to be done for the good of others, that is heroism.
Every time I have read this part of the Lord of the Rings (right now I'm reading it to my middle child and have just come to that point again) and every time I have seen that part in the movie, I find myself weeping. Today I showed that small scene at our evening family service, and once again, I was overcome with tears. It touches me because in the story it is the smallest, most unnoticed, apparently unexceptional person who appears to be called on to do this all but impossible task, and he answers that call with "yes" despite the fact that he does not know how to get there. I looked at our children this evening at church and I saw in each of them the ability to answer that call with a "yes" as well. I saw that God often does use the unexpected, the unnoticed, and that all it takes is a "yes" to become that hero.
But I also was struck by something different this evening. In the story, Frodo saved his world. In most of our classics and histories, the hero making the decision to say "yes" to the impossible saves something, someone important: the family, the country, the planet, the universe... something big. But how many times is it not also heroic, when we really look at it, just to say "yes" to the burdens we are given each day? Burdens that we also, often, don't really know how to carry? When we say "yes" to the incredibly difficult job of daily parenting a challenging child, when we say "yes" to sitting up with someone in crisis even when we ourselves are beyond tired, when we say "yes" to choosing to live each day while struggling with chronic, debilitating pain; when we say "yes" to working a job in which we are miserable because it supports our families; when we put up with meanness for the sake of someone else, when we stand up to someone who is unkind to others, when we risk loving the unlovable or talking with the person society rejects, when we choose to do that which is unpopular but which is the only thing we can do if we are true to our values, when we get up each morning after the death of a child - in all these actions, we are choosing in that moment to be heroic. All of these things may not change the world or make the news or seem that big of a deal in the larger scheme of things. But each time we say "yes" to carrying the burdens we find at our feet or facing the challenges or making the world a tiny bit kinder and gentler for someone else, we are choosing to be heroic. Other people don't have to know or record or celebrate what we've done for it to be big and for it to mean something in God's eyes.
All we are called to do is that which is in front of us to do: for some of us that is big and changes the world. For most of us it only changes us. But that is enough. All we are called to do is to say "yes" when the call shows up.
To phrase this another way: I see that it is a big deal, that it is in fact heroic for each of you to walk the journeys you do, to face the difficulties you face, to keep going in the midst of adversity and to keep saying "yes" to life, especially when it is hard. I hope you can see it too and that you can celebrate the choices you have made in each day.
1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, (Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1966) p. 164.