Yes, Virgina, all adventures take you on dark and uncertain roads, …at some point. All heroes encounter difficulties. Not every story has a “Hollywood” ending. In the wise words of Samwise Gamgee, “…I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures , as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in mind. Folk just seem to have just been landed in them, usually–their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had. we wouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on–not all to a good end mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end.”

Sam, of course, is specifically talking about the difficult, and seemingly impossible, task of taking the Ring of Power into Mordor to be destroyed right under the enemies nose. It was a heavy burden that nobody in their right mind would willingly take on. Kind of like illness, or involuntary unemployment, or a soul crushing loss. We don’t willingly choose those paths; they seem to be laid for us and we just stumble on to them. They test our metal. Like all heroic tales, songs, and sagas, it is our perseverance through the dark times of doubt that determines how we are remembered …. Or whether we are remembered at all.

There is another lesson in Sam’s nugget of wisdom, and that is about saying “yes”. Sometimes we feel a pull or a call, or something as simple as seeing an open door…a possibility, an opportunity. Many times we disregard this glimmer of adventure, turning back before we’ve even stepped foot outside our front doors. The risk is too high. The fear too great. The unknown too dangerous. The path too unconventional. (After all, what WILL our family think??) The effort too much. And all too often…. The end, and final outcome (what WE get out of it), too unpredictable. So we hesitate. Instead of putting our hand to the door and our feet on the path, we sit back down to another cup of tea; Robbing ourselves of LIFE!

What do I mean by “life”, you may ask? A cozy cup of tea before a warm fire certainly seems like a good life, doesn’t it? Yes, indeed it does! I appreciate the trees and turf that offer their warmth through the fire and the tea plants that lend their nourishment to my body.

The tree that provides the fuel for the fire burst from the ground as a sapling. The tree grew and experienced the cycle of the seasons; spring ever following winter, autumn ever following summer. The tree saw birds come to build nests, hatch little birds that grew and left, to return again larger and build other nests, to hatch birds that grew and left, to return again…. The tree drank deep from the ground, let fall leaves on the wind, stretched toward the sun, put forth fruit, inhaled carbon dioxide and exhaled oxygen. One day the tree was felled, or it toppled because of water logged soil or strong wind. Then a human took an ax or saw to limb and trunk, parceling them into usable size. I gathered those pieces of limb and trunk, placed them inside my stove and set fire to them. They now share with me the energy they stored from the sun and I am warmed.

Birth, life, and death. That is our guarantee; our doom, as Tolkien phrased it. During our lives we experience the cycles, just as the trees and turf and tea plants do. Spring follows winter, autumn follows summer. Friends move in and out of our lives. Jobs come and go. Governments rise and fall. Children are born, they grow, and leave to experience cycles of their own. We stretch toward love and peace. We feel happiness, sadness, joy, fear, contentment, anxiety, and ecstasy; each following the other in their own unique cycles. We breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. One day we are felled, or we topple due to sickness or age.

Now, it seems the “Living” happens in the middle there somewhere. In fact, I suspect Life is the instigator of the cycle of emotions and it’s in that messy middle we find our opportunities for bravery. All things have a season. As beautiful as the red Rowan berries are in autumn, they must drop. As sweet as the flower of the Rose bush, the petals must fall. There are other cycles after flower and berry. We can not hold on to spring any more than we can prevent winter. Should we even try? But what of the tree and the bush? Were they not joyful with the budding of berry? Are they not sorrowful at the loss of flower? Maybe. Yet the cycle moves and new joys stir even as the spring approaches. Fear of loss does not hinder them and uncertainty of next seasons rain does not prevent them.

When we sit before our fires, mug of tea in hand, and hear a call or noise outside do we rouse ourselves and venture forth to explore the cause? When we sit at our desks accumulating retirement money and the dream of operating a hot air balloon, offering rides over the lake, stirs in our hearts, do we heed it? Do we choose safety and familiarity over adventure?

Sometimes safety is a good choice. If a storm rages outside while we sit by the fire, perhaps it is wise to wait for it to pass before exploring out of doors. If a family member is undergoing medical treatment covered by the health insurance provided by the desk job that accumulates retirement money, perhaps it is wise to wait a little while longer before heeding the dream of hot air balloons. Just as the tree stores its resources through the winter, sometimes we, too, must wait a little.

But prudence is not fear, and wisdom not complacency.

There is no guarantee of a happy ending, even if we stay in front of our fires to sip tea. The question we must ask ourselves is whether, at the end of all things, we want to look back on a life lived in safety only, or a life lived like the heroes in the great tales. The ones who ventured out their door, stepped onto the path and found themselves …. doing brave things…. in the midst of dark days and joyful nights.

Even in the Shire the hobbits who stayed home for tea had to venture out their doors eventually. They might not have journeyed as far as some, but their time of testing came as sure as autumn, and poke their heads out they did! Sometimes, adventure finds you no matter what….”and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

I am living an adventure. Several years ago I committed to saying YES to life, to embracing all it had to offer: the messy, the glorious, the dripping, oozing, riotous thrill of it. Living outside of the US had always been a dream and now I’m here. Living it. That doesn’t mean every moment is fun. It doesn’t mean every day is sunny (how could it, I’m in IRELAND! lol). What it does mean is that when I reach the end of my days I will look back and KNOW I sucked the marrow. I risked it. In the meantime, let me pour you some tea as we sit by the fire while we can. I have a feeling it won’t be long before another call is heard outside and we’ll have to decide whether to open the door!

“So through good times and bad, famine and feast, the villagers held fast to their traditions. Until, one winter day, a sly wind blew in from the North… “