Most everyone has a book that really speaks to them. Maybe it’s because they identify closely with the characters. Maybe it’s a story so gripping and well written that it adheres itself to their memory, yet oftentimes, the stories that become the most special are the ones that come during a pivotal time. It could be a major transition between seasons of your life like going from high school to college or from single-hood to marriage. Or it could be during a time of great hurt like a breakup or a death. Because sometimes God sends the perfect fictional story to inspire or remind you of His goodness. For few things feel more meaningful than the perfect book at the perfect time. Well, today on my birthday, I’d like to share with you mine.
If the title of this blog hadn’t already made it obvious, my favorite fiction books are Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I first read them when I picked them out as chapter books for my homeschool literature course. I was about fifteen then - in the throws of growing up. At the time, my sole exposure to Tolkien’s works was an old cartoon of The Hobbit, and I hardly knew a thing about The Lord of the Rings. Sure, I heard about the Peter Jackson films, but that was about it. Well, from the day I first read, ‘In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit. . .’, that was it. The histories, the languages, the sights, the sounds; Tolkien swept me away to his Middle Earth. I relished the Biblical truths spoken in the subtext. I got so invested in the characters and their quests that I limited myself to reading only a half a chapter a night just to stretch the journey out longer. Even then, I blew through each book in a month.
It was while I was midway through The Fellowship of the Ring when my Grandpa on my Dad’s side grew interested in reading Tolkien’s stories too. I was very blessed to enjoy good relationships with both sets of grandparents, and I was particularly close with him. To describe Grandpa in short, I’d say he was the family’s Mr. Whitaker. Sure, he didn’t live in Odyssey. He didn’t have an ice cream shop or an imagination station. He didn’t even have a white mustache, but he put together backyard ‘Olympics’ for us grandkids and even participated himself. He made up bedtime stories for me and my sisters every Wednesday night. He taught me how play guitar. He loved freely and gave a listening ear along with wise Biblical council whenever I needed it. For my Grandpa was an incredibly strong man of faith and loved Jesus more than anything. He was indeed one of my best friends and greatest role models.
Well, it’s our family’s usual schedule to visit the grandparents every Thursday. My sisters and I used to have our piano lessons with Grandma in the afternoon. We’d play outside, watch cartoons, or finish homework while waiting our turns. Then I’d join Grandpa on his daily walk up and down their long driveway while the sun sets. Those golden rays would strengthen to red as well I talked while the shadows grew. After I told him about Tolkien’s books, to my surprise, he asked if he could read them too, and before I knew it, a new tradition was added to our Thursdays. I’d finish piano lessons. We’d walk as the sun set. Then we’d sit side by side on the back porch swing, reading and reading until Grandma called us for supper. I finished the whole series before he finished Fellowship of the Ring, but that hardly mattered. Being together did.
Then my Grandpa’s Parkinson's disease started getting the better of him. The trembling began in his tongue and lips. Then the shaking affected his hands. He couldn’t keep his book steady anymore, but that’s when our silent pleasure turned into open adventure. I started reading it for him, and we wound up loving our time all the more. We shared so many great moments. I’ll never forget all the ways he reacted. My favorite was the big ‘Wow!’ he gave when Sam carried Frodo up Mt. Doom. He became so eager for our next session, he’d sometimes ask if we could read even if it wasn’t Thursday! We even finished The Two Towers from cover to cover in two weeks! Those moments were just . . . just magical.
Of course, time marches on. The Lord called Grandpa home a short year after we finished the series. I miss him terribly - even now. To tell you all the truth, I had a hard time keeping it together while typing this. Tears kept escaping no matter what I tried, but as a very good friend of mine once said, ‘Do not grieve that it’s over. Rejoice that it happened.’ So on this day of my birth, I rejoice for one of the grandest gifts God ever gave me in those last two years of Grandpa’s life. Those evenings with him and Tolkien’s books are worth more than gold to me, and I can cherish them for a lifetime unto eternity. Whenever I read or watch Frodo board his boat to the Undying Lands, I see my Grandpa wearing the same smile and the same spark in his eyes. I stand on the shore same as Sam. I stare beyond the shining horizon of the grey western sea where his ship disappeared, and I await my turn to pass that silver curtain. Until then, I can always look back and relive those precious days God meant for Grandpa and me - the days of sunsets, swings, and Hobbits.
“The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow, if I can.” - Tolkien
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