I was feeling kind of down in the dumps the other night; kids were at their Moms, and I was home alone in my empty house. It happens - often when I'm feeling the sads, I'll turn to some of my favorite things to try and lift my spirits. This seems harder to do as I get older, I don't know. Maybe I'm growing more curmudgeonly, or maybe my depression has a better hold, but often things I used to enjoy and love don't hold that same spark. But the other night, I put on Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, and sat down to watch four hours of film by myself.
I'll have to go back to my childhood here, and talk about how I loved reading as a kid - I learned to read at an early age, and ever since then, stories have enthralled me and taken me to places I never thought I could go. I especially loved fantasy and sci-fi books; they always had a certain magic and phantasmic quality that spoke to me. So early on, I developed a love for A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis and of course, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I knew that there were stories after the Hobbit... the mythical Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings had a real cult status when I was a kid in the 80s - at music stores, there were always these fantastical LOTR posters (always near Led Zeppelin records, weird huh?) that depicted the imposing Gray Wizard Gandalf... with sword and sorcery movies being prominent in the early 80s, and Dungeons & Dragons becoming popular, fantasy imagery was just everywhere, and I was sucked in. But LOTR eluded me... the sheer size of it was daunting, and the language was dense and deep to a kid... I didn't read it til I was in my teens, but the love of all things it encompassed was impressed upon my soul at a very early age. So, it became a treasured part of the story library I kept in my head and heart. When Peter Jackson announced he was making three films in 1999... I was so excited. I remember watching countdowns on the official website, back when the internet was still nascent! I saw The Fellowship of the Ring in theaters, and I remember from the opening scene showing the battle against Sauron and the cutting of the ring by Isildur... I was hooked. But in 2002, I was battling kidney failure and didn't even know it. When The Two Towers came out in late 2002, I was nearing the end... when I saw the film, I felt sick, terrible, and my vision was blurry from my illness. I enjoyed it, but I had this weird sense of dread that I might not live to see Return of the King the next year. In the time between the films, I was diagnosed with ESRD, put on dialysis, and I had my first transplant just a few weeks before Return of the King came out. I was alive, feeling better than I had in years... and my first outing after surgery was with my brother to see Return of the King. I lived, I survived, and I saw the completion of the films. I loved it - the film was epic, amazing, uplifting, and an ode to friendship, and the strength of love, courage, family & friends. The same things that had helped me survive my own journey into Mordor, as it was.
So the film holds a special place in my heart - it's a reminder of that time, what I endured, and what I was able to face and overcome. So watching it every time since has been a somewhat emotional experience for me, personally - not to mention the content of the film. At the end, when Frodo Baggins has become so weak from the nefarious power of the ring and he cannot continue to climb Mount Doom, his best friend, Samwise Gamgee, says to him "I can't carry it... but I can carry you!" and throws Frodo over his shoulders and climbs up towards the top of Mount Doom, to where the ring can be thrown in its caldera and destroyed. It's a powerful moment in storytelling and film, and definitely hits me hard. I've had a lot of people carry me up that hill when I could not go further. In the end, the ring is destroyed, and Frodo and Sam, two small, seemingly insignificant beings, have saved the entire world, with the help and support of their friends.
I sat through the movie, alone, with my dog - watching the story unfold, but thinking of my own the whole time too. There's been adventure, there's been love, there's been pain, there's been sadness but I've lived through it all. Sometimes it's overwhelming, and not every day is perfect here and now, but I'm glad I have something like a silly film to not only entertain me and lift my spirits, but to remind me of everything I've managed to accomplish in spite of great odds, and the amazing people that have given so much to get me here.