Of Whiffle Ball and Captain Crunch

This month’s interviews include something of a full circle moment for me. I could not interview Simon Tolkien without thinking of his grandfather’s famous trilogy, which I read hungrily when I was thirteen. I remember sitting in my bedroom reading the scene where Frodo leaves The Shire. I could see perfectly clearly in my imagination the moment Frodo passed through his garden gate and set foot on the road that would take him on his great journey. I could see it so clearly, I actually sat up in bed and said aloud, “I can’t believe I’m not there.  Why don’t I get to be there?”

I didn’t mean Middle Earth. I meant on a great and important journey. My life felt poignant to me, and yet what was it? Boring public school, whiffle ball, and Captain Crunch. Yes, I had been on journeys, but what was it to know, to absolutely know, that a journey mattered? Had mine not all led me back to the same place, to the same whiffle ball and breakfast cereal?

This was a question that would follow me my entire life and lead to a lot of melodrama. If I could just make my disappointment tragic and my successes ecstatic wouldn’t that make my life meaningful? Unfortunately, no. Frodo, after all, does not bound off merrily on his journey. Rather he surrenders to his choice. I was taught that surrender was failure. I did not want to fail.

Yet all that must be surrendered, in the truest sense of the word, is the belief that whiffle ball and Captain Crunch are in anyway indicators of the meaning of any moment. For if you’re going to believe in the trophy, you must also believe in the empty trophy case. To let go of the guardrails of evidence, to cross your life without the net of approval, this can seem a risky proposition.

And there, then, there are your dragons; there are you dark tunnels. For what would you be if you were not beautiful or if you had no medals for your chest? The journey can lead only one place, and the road is beneath us from our very first breath. That you wait for yourself at the end of it should come as no surprise, and as you see yourself unencumbered by rings or reviews, you will have say, “Yes. That is what I always meant.”

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