With only one day left, I thought it would be a good opportunity to send off October with a proper goodbye. It’s been a hot one for sure – no wool coats or scarves yet although Californians had a good tease once or twice with a much-exaggerated thunderstorm and a handful of crisp, gusty mornings.
This October has been both brutal and beautiful in so many ways. Never before did I realize know how closely one could follow the other—brutality and beauty, that is—or how often the two waltz in hand-in-hand. It’s been 31 days brimming with beautiful scenes I wish would last longer than the few moments they do, before fading out to black. In the wake of lots of circumstantial chaos, I guess it’s easy to understand the explosion of emotions that run the gamut. But in the middle of all the chaos, I’ve noticed a few things. My capacity for joy seems to be increasing. It’s heightened by the ugly contrasts around it; yet, even as it runs deeper and finds more conduits, it also seems to burn out faster. I’m not sure what to make of that.
All this tends to trigger a favorite quote by J.R.R. Tolkien used for my college senior seminar presentation.
Middle Earth was the fantastical conduit for Tolkien’s modern day fairy tale, and Tolkien’s approach to storytelling was to represent reality as the deeply imaginative redemptive tale he knew it to be. In his enlightening essay “On Fairy-Stories,” Tolkien eloquently undercut the mistaken nature of “real life” (what realists see as a world of motorcars and internal combustion engines). While some modernists viewed escapist literature—fairy tales and myths—as a cheap way out of reality, Tolkien viewed it as nobly reaching for a world that transcended motorcars or engines—a “real life” with enduring traits higher than those we are so often satisfied with. He explains his frustration with the critics’ critique in this excerpt from his essay:
“Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way, the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing—not always by sincere error—the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.”
Sometimes life feels magical. Like the night you enter chandelier-lit ballroom to meet the songwriting mastermind who wrote “Meteor Shower,” a song that sounds like you’re shattering a stained-glass window or a sky full of stars. And somehow that’s beautiful because it allows you to “slip the surly bonds of earth… to touch the face of God.” This is how prisoners escape—they touch the face of God.
Or sometimes the magic comes in the morning, when you step outside your door in the delicious warmth of new moccasins and sunlight flickering through orange, dying leaves.
God gives many material gifts that transcend the material world, and you never know when they might strike.