156: “Defiance Rather Than Hope” (J. R. R. Tolkien)

                “His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself.”
                -J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, published 1955.

                The last two years have been hard for me. I’ve been sad a lot, frustrated a lot, lost a lot. I’ve been hurt by all the hurt I see around me, by the injustice and the cruelty and the thoughtless ambition. No matter how much I try to do, I don’t seem to help very much toward a place with more peace and compassion.
                And then there’s Sam in The Lord of the Rings. I don’t think I’m very much like Sam. I’m not as wonderfully short, I’m not as good a cook, I’m not as steady. But he tells me that the difference between hope and defiance is a difference in scope. Defiance is about setting your individual power against the injustice around you. It’s about Sam, walking towards the mountain where he might be able to burn away a big part of what threatens his world. Hope is about the stars and the grass and all the people he’s never met, before him, after him. Hope is about the wideness that goes beyond our world.
                I think defiance is important. I haven’t done enough, but in the last years, I’ve tried to educate myself, write to senators, attend marches. I’ve tried to add my little push to the side of justice. We need to keep doing that. But we need Sam’s hope, too. I learned recently about the vaquita, the rarest marine mammal in the world, and the scientists who’ve spent their lives trying to keep it from going extinct. It’s going extinct anyway. Their act of defiance might have failed, but whatever happens, their love for vaquitas existed. So did the vaquitas themselves. There is all the depth of history, all the wonder of uncounted species and a planet and a future that includes splashed light, love, and far stars. I–we–are a little, little part of all that. Look up. Look around. Look in. That’s why there’s hope.

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