They were so skilled, such stunning characters. We were deeply saddened. What more could be said?
Our collective emotion was rocked last year as amazingly talented creators Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade chose their own exits. And we recently paused in remembrance: Robin Williams has now been gone five years.
What more should be said? My reading and training on grief have coached me to say nothing. Less is more. Remain silent. Do not preach or dispense advice. Simply grieve with the grieving.
And under almost every circumstance, I concur. Indeed, we pray for comfort and divine hope to descend in hearts of family and friends. We live ever-cognizant of the heartache of mental illness and the struggle of addiction. Ours is a pulsing grief, oft best unspoken. Together, our hearts ache.
Albeit for a moment, indulge me. Perhaps we should lean into a shade more reflection. I am compelled to break from the normal silence of our society’s prescribed, safe decorum. When we witness such a sad avalanche of remarkable people, it seems that further commentary might be appropriate. Perhaps, a few next level thoughts might prove helpful to someone. And we join together in confessing, there are still parts both known and unknown.
I shall not engage in diatribe against the supposed emptiness of the splendidly wealthy and the wickedly successful movers and shakers of current culture. Over my years, I have witnessed too much. Suicide regularly claims the upper crust as well as the best of us lower crumbs. She plays no favorites in her deceptive malice. Life’s pressure, pain, and resulting hopelessness are no respecter of persons.
In the wake of Anthony and Kate’s self-determined exits, my mind was moved with sadness. And I was drawn into a Tolkien scene in The Lord of the Rings plus several correlating truths. Beware. This scene happens far from the Shire but not yet Mordor. We find Gandalf and Pippin in one of the dreadful, messy middle places of Middle-earth, the Citadel of Gondor during the apex of the Battle.
He was so skilled, such a stunning character. Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, had served many years as the ruler of the city and surrounding parts, both known and unknown. Overwhelmed by the Shadow and Sauron’s dark influence, this long-time leader chose to do the unthinkable.
With great haste, Pippin desperately explained to Gandalf: ‘Denethor has gone to the Tombs, and he has taken Faramir, and he says we are all to burn, and he will not wait, and they are to make a pyre and burn him on it, and Faramir as well. And he has sent me to fetch wood and oil.’
Denethor’s son, Faramir, had been wounded in battle, a wound the father assumed to be fatal. Gandalf and Pippin raced to the house of the dead in an attempt to rescue both father and son. They rushed in, and we read: “Denethor stepped backward before Gandalf as one amazed.”
Gandalf and Denethor engaged in a volley of heated argument. Denethor declared: ‘Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer?’ The old wise guide responded, attempting with all his might to clear the crazed perspective. O if he might talk even an ounce of sense into the frazzled leader.
‘Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death…only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.’
Here is one powerfully germane, highly potent statement from the Wizard’s lips. Before we quickly shrug, shake our heads, and dub this as insensitive, provincial, or even judgmental, let us ponder the depth of Tolkien’s analysis.
Gandalf was drawing from the recesses of his memory, reaching back to ancient times in earlier ages when rulers chose to exit life of their own accord. His analysis was profound. The root cause was a dark blend of pride and despair. They allowed Dark Power to get the best of them. (Catch the rest of the story in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Chapter 7.)
But notice this standout statement: Authority is not given to you…to order the hour of your death. Tolkien was very deliberately conveying through the wise lips of Gandalf his own world and life view. Humans are ultimately accountable to their Creator. From Tolkien’s perspective, to think otherwise is a misguided, under-the-Shadow, yes even arrogant perspective. When the leading persons of a culture arrive at believing they hold the authority to decide when they shall depart, they are beguiled by “pride and despair.” But Tolkien does not end with diagnosis. In typical Tolkien style, there is hope and wonderful good news.
Gandalf’s next words to Denethor conveyed so much: ‘Come! We are needed. There is much that you can yet do.’ He called the Steward of Gondor to recognize his important stewardship. He called him to humbly recognize his sacred calling and how much he was needed.
We must all remember, even in our darkest moments:
The choice is not our own. Yes, this runs contra popular, pervasive perspective, the groundswell of societal opinion. Misguided, we think we should rule our own entrance and exit. Sadly, we are now slogging through the Shadows of such dark thinking.
We are needed. There are still friends, coworkers, clients, precious children and spouses who do indeed need you to stay in the battle. Choose to stay. Please choose to stay!
There is much we can still do. There are new parts and places to go—both known and unknown. There are fresh meals to create and taste. New people to meet and bless. There are fashions to still make, meetings to lead, and products to create. There is Good News to share, bad news to battle through, and love to spread profusely.
We all battle with our own blend of pride and despair. We all have demons, addictions, and old enemies. Amidst the voices of dark despair, may we listen instead to the voice of Gandalf and ultimately our Creator. Hear him say: You are not your own. You are loved. You are not alone. COME! You are needed. There is much that you can yet do. There is hope!