One Small String
My youngest daughter, poor unfortunate child, is a homeschooler. In our world, homeschool children are the lucky ones, they have more control than their “normal” friends in how long it takes them to do school each day. If my daughter stays focused, she can often be done with all her work by noon, leaving hours of unscheduled bliss for her to explore the fine art of doing nothing. But in so many ways, the Corona Virus has flipped the narrative and now, my homeschool child has discovered that her sisters who attend school outside our home are on “vacation”, but she sadly is not. The angst is palpable. But despite her misfortune at this turn of fate, she has been doing her work, and one of her tasks was to write a paper on the Hero’s Journey as it applies to Bilbo Baggins in the book, “The Hobbit”. The idea of the paper is that there is a formula inherent in any story which requires a hero, and hero stories have always been some of our favorites. The Hero must be cast away from the everyday life into a journey of danger and self-discovery. To be a hero, the journey always includes self-sacrifice, and through that sacrifice, discovery of talents or strengths otherwise untested and unknown. Ultimately, a Hero’s Journey ends where it began, with a return to normalcy, although the character is forever changed; Bilbo becomes a weary but wiser Hobbit.
People have always loved hero stories, they have been a part of every culture, from Beowulf to Harry Potter. Hero’s feed our hope that things will get better and the trials that we face are worth it in the end. One of the reasons we believe so strongly in this formula is because we are all given the opportunity to witness heroism and even be a hero ourselves at different points in our lives. I know lots of heroes, I met one last night.
It rained last night, no, it poured, no, it deluged. Living on a small farm I learned early on that animals love to make you suffer. They think it’s funny. But being animals, they have few resources to create humor, so they often rely on circumstance to force their jokes. Enter the cows. Late last night, as we were headed for bed my middle daughter came into my room. “The cows are lowing Mom, I’m going to go check it out.” She said. My efficient daughter is out the door before I register her PJ pants tucked into her boots as she headed out into the rain. “What a great kid”, I thought and promptly fell into a doze as I wait for her to come back. Suddenly, I realized that I had been asleep and my daughter was not back, it has been too long. As I put on my boots my mother called, the cows are in her backyard. This is bad, we have a bull, he is untrained and onry, my daughter was out there with him, alone in the wild weather. I jumped up and was out the door in a flash to discover my daughter standing next to our cow with a piece of bailing twine tied around her neck. The cow had decided that it would be soooo funny to jump the fence and go explore new territory in the storm. But upon getting on the other side of the fence she realized that it would be an even better joke if the bull went with her, that was what the lowing was about, she was trying to talk him into jumping the fence as well. Luckily , my daughter had caught onto her plan and discovered the cow in the woods, and even luckier she had a piece of bailing twine in her coat pocket that she quickly fashioned into a collar and led the cow through the dark, the pouring rain and washed out ditches of unfamiliar territory, back around into my mother’s backyard, where she called for help until we all came to assist. There are so many things I admire about this Hero’s Journey. The weather was scary enough, but that this 100 lbs girl had her wits about her enough to distract the bull with feed so she could discover the location of the cow and then lead the 1000 pound beast through the dark with nothing but a string tied around its neck was beyond ambitious. At first, I was sorry I wasn’t there to help her. But it turns out she didn’t need my help, and because she did it on her own, she discovered a strength and wisdom she didn’t know as tangibly before. She made all the right decisions and saved the cow from her foolishness with a small string and a large helping of courage. So take heart, weary travelers, there are Heroes among us and they are almost always outsized by the obstacles they face. Yet normalcy does return, good conquers evil, and we vanquish our fears to prepare for the next journey, a wiser hobbit.