“Not all who wander are lost. . .”
I was rather surprised when this quote went viral, showing up on everything from t-shirts to decorative couch pillows to almost anything else you could think of. It’s been interesting reflecting on it; at first they included the line, “all that is gold does not glitter”, but they lost that in a hurry. I guess people liked the defiance in “not all who wander are lost” but were much less interested in “the old that is strong does not wither” or “deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
Like most of Tolkien’s writing, the original poem was full of much weariness, much longing, and the real complexity of “bittersweet” that has now been so overused on extravagant chocolate desserts that the word has begun to lose the depths of real heartache mingled with true joy. By snipping out that one little line, they’ve lost so much; what remains is a superficial arrogance. What was a mourning has been turned into an anthem.
Becoming one that wanders, while not being lost, is not really a goal. The point isn’t that you want to be a loner, distancing yourself from others, thinking yourself above, different, better than. It’s really a lament. Not being lost, yet still having to wander.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
It’s not the goal, and it’s not pleasant. It’s something to be endured until the fullness, and in the meantime, it’s lonely. And it might be pleasant to not be wandering alone, but “all that is gold does not glitter.” People aren’t really attracted to just being lonely and pining for things being restored. They want to get comfortable–and by comfortable, I don’t necessarily mean no hardship. I just mean a certain level of predictability, certain levels of challenge, certain levels of control and choice.
When you come along beside someone, metaphorically, and say, “Come, let us walk this journey together!” and they respond by saying, “Journey? My butt is planted right here; if you need help figuring out how to sit down, I’ll teach you,” well, there can be little doubt there is not much in the way of fellowship. I think it is the rejection of fellowship that hurts worse than the traveling in different directions.
I realize this is all rather vague, and I don’t mean to be obtuse. It’s just that I am wary to pinning it all down on one circumstance, when I see echos of it through all of life. When we’re kids and no one wants to play hide-and-go-seek with us, it’s not that we had a dire need to play hide-and-go-seek.The desire was the togetherness. Debates that turn into debates are unfulfilling, because unless there actually is a desire to come together, in fondness if not in agreement, there is no accomplishment. Being right in a context devoid of relationship is pointless.
To wander is to admit there is no place to sit down and be settled, at least for now. To say that you are not lost, however, is to say that you know that it is meaningful to keep searching and waiting and looking and knocking and asking and longing. It is not at all about spurning others; but not everyone wants to wander. It doesn’t glitter. And to endure the wandering, there must be deep roots. The greatest joy is not in wandering, but only in knowing that one day, we will be reforged.