Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wandering, Not Lost

One of my favorite Tolkien quotes goes like this:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
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.[1]
It's a poem in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the movie, I think Gandalf says the line about "not all who wander are lost" and Arwen cites the last part after she convinces her father, Elrond, to reforge the sword of Gondor.

The second line resonates with me, and I suspect many others, because we are wanderers of the world, seekers who are not content to be the best tradesman, musician, writer, or whatever. Instead we are those 'jack-of-all-trades' people who know a lot about many things, and are not experts on anything at all.

Being that type of person can leave one a bit groundless and rootless, however, because that person never really settles down. Even if the wanderer stays in one place, there is always a searching, a something in the soul that is constantly looking about, with eyes on the stars, the trees, the blades of grass - or in this day and age, reading endlessly on the Internet - because the mind never stops wandering even if the body is in stasis.

Elizabeth Gilbert called it a "curiosity driven life" and I think it is much the same thing as a wanderer. Being nomadic of mind means you never stop asking questions, you're always seeking something more - whether that's a sign that one has deep wells within the soul that need filling, I cannot say. I think for me it is - a sense that something is missing, as if my twin were ripped from me at birth. A sense of loss that gives one an intense need to continue searching, pilgrims of religions and politics, vagrants of the world who, while perhaps productive and self-sufficient, are still hobos in the heart.

Many people take sabbaticals and go on long self-exploration journeys, and they are admired for this because it appears they have reached some pinnacle of understanding, and moved on to be firmly planted, trees with deep roots. Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love and Cheryl Strayed's Wild come quickly to mind. And then there was Jesus himself, who took his body off to the desert to confront whatever demons might have been out there.

I don't know though, that those souls are settled. Gilbert claims to have a single passion - writing - but she's built quite a career out of public speaking and jetting about the world, all based on a single book. Strayed, I suspect, is still seeking. I did not find that personality to be one who would dig deep roots. Jesus is whomever one wants him to be - messiah, prophet, soldier. Certainly still wandering and not settled, his message corrupted and regurgitated time and again throughout millennia.

A long time ago I visited a shamaness who insisted I needed to be grounded. I had no roots, she said, (even though at the time I'd lived in the same house for about 20 years)  and I should visualize myself every day growing roots into the ground, so that I might stay put. But this was really her vision for the perfect life, I think - one where a person is grounded, rooted, and satisfied. While this is sometimes something I greatly desire, I do not think it is a satisfaction I shall ever obtain. I am like Galadriel, with the One Ring handed to me, only to turn it away. Or maybe I am Sisyphus, pushing that rock every day, nonstop.
Roots such as those the shamaness wanted for me have nothing to do with physical place, but instead deal with the soul. Many people have told me I have an old soul, an earthy soul, even, but my soul is also clouded, dusty, and reeking with despair. There are days when I reel from thought to thought, my wanderings so many that even I cannot keep up. An hour in conversation with me can wear out both me and the person to whom I speak, if they can keep up, when those wanderings are racing through my brain.

I am alone, as we all are, even with someone standing beside us, holding our hand. What these stories of wanderings and finding of selves tell us is that ultimately we are alone - and our journey is ours, and no one else's. These days we are so absorbed in being 'human doings' instead of 'human beings' that we forget sometimes to see the sunset, or see a cloud cross a full blue moon, or watch a blade of grass dance in the wind. So busy looking down that our wandering has ceased.

Sometimes I envy those who do not wander, the ones who appear to have found their lot in life. Those who set goals and work only to achieve them, eschewing all else until their passion has been captured and embraced. I am unable to do that - my mind is to quick to spot the dandelion and forget I need to mow the yard.

The people I love flit through my life, some leaving great, bloody gashes, and others leaving bandages and kisses. Some will be with me until my eyes close and my wandering ends. It is that way for all of us, I think, only we don't take time to stop and recognize that this great adventure, this life, is so very different and yet exactly the same for us all. We are all kindred spirits who long for soulmates and at the same time we are demonic devils who desire to do damage. That is what it is to be human, to be wandering.

Even you, dear reader - whom I may or may not know - have a role in my journey. Your eyes flitting along these paragraphs mean something, even if you leave no comment nor give this no thought. We pass here on this page, on the street, in the shadows of the dawn when we both are asleep and dreaming.

Wandering together, each of us, alone.


  1. This was so well-written! You are an amazing writer! :)

    1. Jesus is all 3 of those things together.
      .....and we have a passion for learning


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