My youngest daughter, Ginny, really lit up this year about Christmas. As the day drew near, she could not contain her excitement. She had mock Christmas celebrations, where she put stuff around the house in boxes and give them to us. Her and her sisters sat around the tree and exchanged gifts with each other, then wrapped them back up, and did it all over again. Christmas Eve and Christmas day were played over and over again, and when the real thing came, it was even that much more exciting. She wore her joy on her face, and it was a joy for me to behold. It brought to mind when I had the same type of excitement, and when I was able to enjoy it the same way. That was before I had to pay for Christmas presents, drive all over the place to see family, worry myself with “Will they like it?” and “What if I don’t like it – do I fake it?” Then Christmas was innocent and fun. Now, while still very fun, I’m usually always glad when it’s over. I’m ready for a break.
Like all Christmas’ though, it went away. A few days after Christmas, she woke up and asked me, “Daddy, I wish it was still Christmas.” My first thought was, “Yes, aren’t you glad,” but then I realized that she was legitimately bothered and upset. She sincerely wanted Christmas to stick around and be everyday – with presents, and visits, and parties, and food, and everything. To her the innocence was a great place to exist. For me, reality has jaded my view of those innocent things, and I don’t guess I’ll ever look at them the same way again.
While reading The Return of the King, I came across a short section that made me think on these things. Gandalf and Pippin take a hurried flight to Minas Tirith from Rohan with news and aid. Gandalf was bringing his knowledge as well as his staff and sword. Pippin was along for the ride because he had encountered Sauron during a bout of his normal foolishness. While meeting with Denethor, Pippin hastily swears service to Denethor, who enlists him as a member of the city guard. Pippin, not known for his prowess in battle, learns the ropes of his new position as the city braces itself against a seemingly insurmountable foe in the armies of Mordor. As he prepared, Tolkien writes this of him:
Already it seemed years to Pippin since he had sat there before, in some half-forgotten time when he had still been a hobbit, a light-hearted wanderer touched little by the perils he had passed through. Now he was one small soldier in a city preparing for a great assault, clad in the proud but sombre manner of the Tower of Guard.
Here we have a Pippin that is no longer in the Shire, and is grown more than he knows, which shows itself throughout the rest of the story. With the fantasy land of the Shire long behind him, reality sets in, and while he will return to the Shire, he’ll never see it with the same eyes again.
The Shire represents everything good and innocent in the land of Middle Earth. Gandalf often states how fond he is of it and its folk and I think Gandalf saw this as a break from the things in which he normally found himself. The Shire was a place where nothing needed fixing – a place the world seemed to have forgotten. The people of the Shire largely lived oblivious to the struggles of the rest of the land, and while their fate was tied to that of Middle Earth, most of the Shire-folk hadn’t the first care concerning a Dark Lord and the end of the world and a magic Ring. They enjoyed their food, their ale, and their smokes. Life was easy, and times were good.
Childhood is much like that. Everything is free or at least from the vantage point of a child. Many children in the world (not all unfortunately) experience the first part of their lives with little responsibility and full bellies. Their lives are all about the world’s they create in their heads, and they live and play as if they have not a care in the world. I think that is a good thing. There exists a world with death and disease, pain and war, but it is so far removed from the land of easy living, they couldn’t even imagine it. I think that is a good thing. I want that for my own children, but I also want them to know that life can’t stay this way. Just as the fate of the Shire was dictated by the fate of Middle Earth, so is the fate of a child dictated by the world around him. That is the sting of reality.
The “sting of reality” for Pippin was Minas Tirith. Though Pippin witnessed the death of Boromir and the destruction of Isengard, I don’t believe he really understood the gravity of what was at stake and how the dealing of men and elves and orcs had anything to do with him. Sure, he owned up to being part of the Boromir’s death (though not at all the cause) and did his duty. (which his own guilt assigned him) However, I do not believe he really understood what service to Minas Tirith looked like – until he saw the oncoming hordes. As the skies grew dim and the fields began to teem with foul beings, reality set in for poor Pippin, and he grew up fast. As Tolkien put it, “he was one small soldier in a city preparing for a great assault.” He was one small soldier in a war that would decide the fate of every soul on Middle Earth. In a flash, the days (and importance) of planting gardens, eating seed cakes and smoking pipe weed were behind him. Life, in a flash, was serious.
I think each Hobbit in the story had that moment. Merry’s ride with Derhelm, and eventually his brush with the Lich King aged him 50 years in a day. Frodo’s constant contact with the Ring grew him progressively, and even ruined him progressively. Sam’s fight with Shelob convinced him that this task was real, and there was no going back. From those points forward in their lives, the Shire would never look the same. Sure, they could go back to the Shire, but they would never see it though the same eyes. Innocence looks much different when you are viewing it from the outside looking in. The Shire didn’t change, but Pippin did, and the Shire would be better for it.
Innocence is an odd term, because while it has meaning, it truly doesn’t exist. Scripture states that all people have the taint of sin on them. From the point of conception to the point of death, a person is not innocent of sin. However, there is a sense in which a person can be innocent in that they haven’t yet witnessed, or become a part of, the worst things in the world. That is something we cherish. It is why crimes against children are seen as so terrible. Children represent what is innocent in this world, and any crime against should be hated. Why do we feel that way? We feel that way because we want to believe there is something good and innocent left in the world. As we age, we start to feel that slipping away. Gandalf loved the Shire because it represented what the world could be, and should be, but wasn’t. I watch my children play and imagine and I’m glad they still see the world as a good thing. The day we lose sight of what could be and should be is the day we give up. That doesn’t mean we forget what reality is. There is a world of hurt all around us and to not acknowledge it would naïve at best. As adults, we can’t afford to forget that some people are out to get us. As Christians, we can’t afford to forget that the world really isn’t good, and it needs a Savior.
The answer is the approach the Bible takes. Christians are called to live in this world of pain and sadness, and even to thrive in it. We are called to minister to those who are sick and weary, no matter what ails them. We are called to raise families in the midst of this world – making sure our children have a great, innocent childhood, all the while teaching them of the perils of the world. We can’t afford to raise them in the Shire – a place where evil doesn’t exist. We can’t because that place isn’t real…yet. Though we live in this world, we look forward to the next. Jesus says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” We can look forward to a time when innocence is the norm. Heaven is the place where the world is made right again. It’s a place where there is no worry and no want. It’s a place where we can be children again.