Lindsey Weishar: A New Year’s resolution to strengthen, cultivate friendships

My Vocation is Love / By Lindsey Weishar

I’ve recently returned to “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Since reading the books a few years ago, a particular detail from “The Fellowship” continues to delight me: the baths.

Maybe you know the detail I mean. Frodo, Sam, and Pippin have been trying to get to another part of the Shire, where Frodo’s friend and relative, Merry, lives. They have just tasted the peril they will face for the rest of the trilogy — they are being pursued by the nine Riders and have experienced fear, cold, and hunger. I want the T-shirt that says what Frodo tells Gandalf a few months before he embarks on this journey: “I am not made for perilous quests.” And yet, as we come to realize along with Gandalf: “Hobbits really are amazing creatures.”

What’s struck me this read-through is the strength of Frodo’s friendships, which brings me back to the baths.

What happens when Frodo, Sam, and Pippin reach Merry? Merry has prepared them baths — and not just one they’ll have to take turns for but three tubs of hot water. I don’t know about you, but in times of trouble for the mind, spirit, or body, a good bath is balm. St. Thomas Aquinas even mentions baths in the “Summa Theologica” as a remedy for sorrow: “Sleep and baths are a remedy; in essence, sorrow drains the body of energy, and these things help restore that energy.”

Before sleep, the hobbits’ baths are followed by a good meal and conversation.

“WE KNOW YOU WELL”

It is in this conversation that the depth of these hobbits’ friendship is revealed. Frodo has believed up until this point that he and Sam must leave the Shire without telling his friends, which he hopes will keep his friends safe. Instead, what occurs at the dinner is the beautiful unfolding of being known: Frodo’s going away is no secret to his friends. “After all, you must remember that we know you well, and are often with you. We can usually guess what you are thinking,” Merry shares.

To Frodo’s entreaty that he be allowed to part company with them to carry out his task — carrying the Ring away from the Shire — Pippin sounds a bit like the biblical Ruth when he says, “You must go — and therefore we must, too. Merry and I are coming with you . . . you will need more than one companion in your dangerous adventure.”

What if we took a page from the hobbits’ book and made 2022 the year of friendship — both intentionally strengthening the friendships we’re already blessed with and making new friends.

The beautiful thing about “The Fellowship” — and the whole trilogy, really — is that Frodo is never alone. Friends are always at hand to help him and his companions along the way. Over and over again, I’ve thought, “What would they have done without Tom Bombadil?” “What would they have done without Aragorn, Gandalf, or Elrond?” And yet, the bath scene brings me back to the most elemental of questions: “What would they have done without each other?”

A FORETASTE OF HEAVEN’S UNITY

What if we took a page from the hobbits’ book and made 2022 the year of friendship — both intentionally strengthening the friendships we’re already blessed with and making new friends. So often, the stories we hear on the news and in the virtual world tend toward illustrating division. Perhaps the invitation of this new year is to immerse ourselves more often in the comforting bath of friendship. And lest the connection need be drawn deeper between baths and friendship, let Henri Nouwen’s words about his friend’s birthday tradition hit the message home:

“I know a friend who, on his birthday, is picked up by his friends, carried to the bathroom, and thrown clothes and all into a tub full of water. Everyone eagerly awaits his birthday, even he himself. I have no idea where this tradition came from, but to be lifted up and ‘re-baptized’ seems like a very good way to have your life celebrated.” (“Here and Now: Living in the Spirit.”)

I’ve found that friends cultivate in us that which is most necessary: hope and an abiding joy in life. Their accompaniment makes even the painful parts of the journey a bit sweeter. They remind us that, ultimately, not only can’t we truly do anything by ourselves, we aren’t called to it. We know this because we are the body of Christ. And the parts of the body don’t operate apart from it.

If Frodo’s story is teaching me anything, it’s that being in the presence of good friends is restorative, a foretaste of the unity of heaven.

May we be bold in the deepening of our friendships this year!

Lindsey Weishar

LINDSEY WEISHAR is is a poet, freelance writer, and native of Champaign who has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is executive assistant to the president at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. Write to her at lweisharwriting@gmail.com .

 

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