Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Thought of Thursday

I like challenges. I live for competition. It has led to some dangerous family Scrabble games and brutal soccer showdowns. It has led to me comparing myself to everyone under the sun since the age I had enough consciousness to do so. That said, challenges can be healthy and since I haven't been the healtiest in terms of being kind to myself I figure the best way to do it is to challenge myself to write about some sort of meaningful quote I dig up for every Thursday.

So with that, welcome to the first Thought of Thursday and today's thinking quote. This week I jumped to goodreads and turned to my authorial hero, the one and only father of fantasy *epic swell of music* JRR Tolkien. Since I've been blabbing vaguely about "fear" lately, here's a rather fitting quote from one of my favourite female characters of Middle Earth. Éowyn.

"What do you fear, lady?" [Aragorn] asked.
"A cage," [Éowyn] said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire."

- JRR Tolkien (Return of the King)

A cage. Would anyone want to be in a cage? Whether literal, or in the case, very much a figurative sort of object, no one wants to be trapped. This is one of the things that I adore about Tolkien's Middle Earth. So many events, people, actions, words, all still apply quite strongly to today.

What world is beyond the window?

Yes, there are certain points when you can tell terribly that he was writing from an early 20th century white, English male, professorial perspective, such as with his tendancy to have only male characters, like "The Hobbit" or that his famous trilogy has Arwen sidelined to the Appendices. She doesn't even actually appear in the plotline itself except on brief mentions. Éowyn herself is refering to how women in her culture are meant to stay at home and keep the fort strong and safe until the men come home from whatever valour-filled expedition or war they went off on.

This is just touching the rather obvious, and yet, if you dig into "The Silmarillion," "The Unfinished Tales" and the reems of notes that often contradict, contradictions, in the twelve volume "History of Middle Earth" (HME) you find powerful female characters and so many intricate details, I learn new things every time. I am planning a post on the conversation between the wise woman Andreth and the elven lord Finrod about mortality/immortality from the HME Volume 10, "Morgoth's Ring" (in case anyone actually cares...). Anyway, in this brief, off-side rant about one thing people bash Tolkien for, just keep in mind his time period and that he wrote Middle Earth as a mythology for England in the style of the epics of Norse mythology.

Anyway, in Éowyn's quote about fearing cages, I see today's world, and I know it is something many people fear. I certainly do. The fear of being trapped somewhere or in something we do not want to be trapped into. Whether it is a job, a relationship or a general lifestyle. Somewhere there is something we are not happy with that we cannot get out of. We feel we are meant for better and greater things. We dream and daydream. We make lists. We compare. We make more lists. Resolutions. Goals. Read self-help books and chart our progress with lines, graphs and so much math it is like people want to be back in high school math class, falling asleep at a desk or hitting their forehead in the desperate hope the answer might leak out one ear like water does after going swimming.

Is life just a series of notes to hop to?

So right there is the easy relatabilty to Tolkien's world and characters, despite it being "fantasy" and in a culture and time period far removed from ours. Easy enough right? Good, because next I want you to take a moment and think about your definition of "great deeds." For Éowyn, a great deed was being a part of a great battle, preferably facing down and defeating a terrible enemy. She did in fact end up doing that as the one who defeated the Witch King but then, she gets a bit sidelined when she and Faramir meet in the Houses of Healing, fall in love and get married. I always wonder what sort of wife she would be. Would she be content to stay in Ithilien while Faramir acted as Steward and advisor to King Elessar? Maybe. She did do a great deed. Then again, maybe not. Not like she got a medal.

So what is your definition of a great deed? Mine is this: a great deed is an accomplishment I have been striving toward and that which recognizes the effort I have put in toward achieving said accomplishment. It is a definition that is both simple but hugely self-centered. I know most of society says great deeds today are ones which make a different to humanity at large, they are ones which are for the larger social good. To that I say, I am an Introvert. I don't take well to parading my face in front of crowds, let alone speaking to them. I have no need of being recognized by society as some fantastically great person worthy of a Noble Prize. No, I just want to accomplish something that is important to me personally and whether or not anyone else sees that accomplishment and recognizes the effort I used to achieve it, great, but at heart, I need to recognize and cherish the accomplishment for it to matter.

Caring for other living things. Is that a great deed?

 If I don't stop and recognize the accomplishment then it is just a piece of paper. Like my recent degrees, achieved in the space of five years. Few manage even one in five years. I pulled off two. It was something I wanted to do so I did it. Not as well as I could have. There were certainly moments I am not proud of. But in the end I did it. At the end of it all though I realized parts of it felt hollow. That is because I achieved those things with the recognition of other people in mind. I fell back into the social fault of needing others recognition to feel validated. Which is, to turn back to Éowyn and her desire to do something great and not be stuck where she would end her days in regret, what I believe even Éowyn fell into in part. After all, she achieves the great deed but then ends up in a rather typical situation of marriage. Is Éowyn as guilty as some of us with being caught up in our respective culture's ideals of what makes for a meaningful life? (Then again that is where fanfiction is brilliant because it addresses the whys, wherefores and aftermaths of things like the marriage of Éowyn and Faramir).

Following that train of societal influence and expectation I wonder: Do we even need to "great deeds?"

My mom for example, recognizes society cannot keep going down the path of consumerist waste that it is on. However she has no grand ideas of enacting good changes for the population like one of my brothers, no, instead she is just concerned with her immediate family and self-awareness. She wants to have a life on a self-sufficient farm. To her, a great deed is more about doing the best for her family than changing the lives of humans somewhere else in the world. 

So to wrap this ramble up, I, like no one else, wants to be caged, trapped, cornered, whatever synonym you feel like planting there. I, like most people, seek to do something meaningful with my life, something that will mean I don't end it with regrets or forgotten with dust bunnies under the bed. (Though anyone who can forget dust bunnies has obviously never lost any socks to them).

Éowyn as a character, and this quote in particular serve as reminders to me to always be conscious of never letting myself get trapped and ultimately making sure whatever I am doing will not lead to any regrets. That is not to say I am a lazy individual who won't work hard and things I don't necessarily enjoy. I do. However, the difference is that I know as I slug through boring schoolwork, or a lifeguarding job with terrible coworkers and bosses that I focus on why I am doing it. How whatever I am doing will contribute to my ultimate goal of a great deed. Whatever the great deed might manifest itself as at the time.

Wandering in circles but always going somewhere.

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