Meriadoc Brandybuck Feels Like Baggage in Someone Else’s Story

When Aragorn makes the speech that we thought about in last week’s reflection Gimli and Legolas hear it as a call to arms. They have no doubt about what they must do. It is a thrilling thing to hear such words from a great captain. In a young man the warrior within is awakened and he feels himself grow taller and stronger and more truly himself. How important it is that the captain who makes the call is worthy  of such devotion. There are too many who call it forth for unworthy causes to the great hurt of all who follow them.

But there is one who hears Aragorn’s words who feels but a spectator to a great event in which he can play but a little part. When Aragorn declares that “an hour long prepared approaches”, Merry cries out:

“Don’t leave me behind! I have not been of much use yet, but I don’t want to be laid aside, like baggage to be called for when all is over. I don’t think the Riders will want to be bothered with me now. Though, of course, the king did say that I was to sit by him when he came to his house and tell him all about the Shire.”

If readers who know the story well think back to the first time that we meet Merry properly it is on the lane between the Bucklebury Ferry and Farmer Maggot’s farm when he meets Frodo, Sam and Pippin hiding in the back of Maggot’s cart for fear of the Black Riders. Merry is both confident and competent. He is on home territory and he knows what to do. There is food and there are hot baths awaiting the anxious travellers in the cottage at Crickhollow. He even leads the other hobbits in revealing what they know of the true purpose of Frodo’s journey and he makes sensible proposals regarding what they should do next.

But at this moment in the story all that must feel both a long time ago and a long way away as if it all belonged to someone else and not to him. Now Merry feels like unnecessary baggage and when, a little while later, Théoden’s party is overtaken by a mounted company and it is possible that there might be a fight that feeling deepens miserably.

Has he forgotten that it was he and Pippin who roused Treebeard and the Ents and so brought about the downfall of Saruman and the destruction of his fortress at Isengard and his army? Saruman may not forget and he does not forget but Merry does. For even there he was carried by the mighty leader of the Ents just as he had been carried by the Orcs as a captive. It has been a very long time since Merry has felt that he is a necessary part of this great enterprise and he desperately wants to feel as if he matters.

In this blog we have often gone back to this theme of being carried. In particular we have thought about it in relation to Frodo,  who, the closer he comes to the conclusion of his journey the less he is able to act on his own behalf. Indeed the last time we saw him he was being carried into Mordor by Shagrat and Gorbag and their orc companies.

We are so anxious to feel that we matter, that we can act on our own behalf and that we can make a difference. It is a thing that the young and the old share in common that their ability to act independently is small. The young long to emerge from the control of their elders. The old fear that they will become increasingly dependent upon others. And yet we know that Merry, simply by being where he is and offering himself as he is in all his weakness and fearfulness and yet with all his love and devotion too, shapes Tolkien’s great story in a way that few others do.

And that is an encouragement to all of us to do the same.

What Good Have I Been- the fear of being useless

Pippin wakes up in a vision of hell as the prisoner of the orcs and a voice of condemnation cries out against him.

“I wish Gandalf had never persuaded Elrond to let us come,” he thought. “What good have I been? Just a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage. And now I have been stolen and I am just a piece of luggage for the Orcs. I hope Strider or someone will come and claim us! But ought I to hope for it? Won’t that throw out all the plans? I wish I could get free!”

Of course the voice of condemnation is in his own head and that is where such voices always sound the loudest. Throughout the journey the young hobbits have been surrounded by intent and capability. Aragorn, Gandalf, Boromir, Legolas and Gimli are all battle-hardened warriors. Frodo and Sam share the task that must be fulfilled, the destruction of the Ring. But Merry and Pippin have no skill as warriors and no great task to fulfill. All they have brought with them is their loyal friendship. At this moment the gift they have offered since the unmasking of the conspiracy at the cottage at Crickhollow in The Shire seems to have very little value. They have simply been a nuisance and they have always been “looked after”.

As I speak to those who are growing older one of the things that strikes me is that this fear of being “a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage” is one of the greatest of all their fears. Perhaps we carry that fear with us all through our lives. Only at one time in my life did I ever stand in the Dole Queue but it remains a powerful memory. At that moment I felt useless. The bus station in my town was just opposite the office where I had to sign on and each time I got off the bus I would take a walk around the streets for a few moments so that no one would see me walk straight from the bus in order to join the queue. I remember too the feeling of relief when I got work as a day labourer with an employment agency. No work felt too demeaning. I was paying my way, making my contribution to the household of which I was a part. Even now as I work freelance and find my work to be profoundly fulfilling there is a part of me that still seeks to keep the feeling of uselessness at bay. Will I be content and at peace in my old age? It is a discipline, the discipline of delight that I am still seeking to learn though I pray for it each day.

Next week we will think about what Merry and Pippin, the luggage of the Orcs, seek to do in their misery. The clue lies in the last phrase of the quotation of Pippin’s speech: “I wish I could get free!” But this week I invite you to share in their misery. Not in order to wallow in it but in order to examine yourself, becoming aware of the voices of condemnation that shout loudest in you, perhaps of your own fear of being “useless”. Image