Identity, Tolkien, and Other Light Topics

I’m going to take a short break from my fiction-ary habits; I feel the need to be straight-forward and honest with this one. I found myself plumbing the depths of Moria from the safety of a Ford Expedition, entirely lost in thought as I drove aimlessly in circles. What had me so entranced? Let’s discuss…

What is identity, really? When someone asks us who we are, we are conditioned to respond with our name and occupation. “Hi, I’m Joe, the groundskeeper,” or, “I’m Martha, I’m a financial advisor.” How much of our identity is tied to what we do, by our actions and occupations? What is it about what we do that gives us that sense of self?

Is it accomplishment? Is it having he ability to say, “I have done this, I am capable of that?” Could it be that we feel the need to classify ourselves, or that we find safety in labeling ourselves and aligning with others of the same classification? Is it a combination, or even possibly something else entirely?

I’m not sure…

If a human being lived in a vacuum, and did absolutely nothing, who would they be? Upon what would their identity be based? Would they even have an identity? Apart from what we do, do we even exist? Are we even people, individuals, outside of what we do? For even simply to think is to be doing something. It’s an action. “I think, therefore I am.”

Huh.

And another thing…

We call them “defining moments.” We recognize that every person is faced with a series of moments and decisions in their lives that make them who they are. We are fully aware (yet somehow, still fully unaware) that each one of these choices, whether big or small, influences who we are as a human being. Our identity is constantly being etched into the rock, further defined and shaped, like water carves out a river bed or a sculptor chisels stone.

I am reminded of a scene from “The Fellowship of the Ring,” a short snippet of a conversation between Gandalf and Frodo in the mines of Moria. Now, I am sure to butcher the quote, so if all you Tolkien-ites out there can put down your pitchforks and simply pay attention to the message, it would be much appreciated.

It begins with Frodo saying, “I wish the ring had never come to me; I wish that none of this had ever happened.”

To which Gandalf, in all his wisdom (and here is the part that applies so heavily to our topic of discussion) replies with, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for us to decide; all that is up to us is to decide what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Your circumstances, the situations around you, they have no bearing on who you are. What defines you, what makes you who you are, or perhaps what SHOWS who you already are, is what you do with that precious time that is given to you. How will you shape the riverbed? How will you carve out the sculpture?

Sometimes it’s taking a risk, or standing your ground, or proving your mettle in a big, grande sort of way. Most of the time, however, it is the simple things. It is how you treat the person next to you as you stand in line at the grocery store. It’s how you choose your words during a heated debate at the pub. It’s deciding whether to pick up the slack of others, or follow in the footsteps of those who simply do what is required and nothing more. Here we sit, each of us with a metaphorical ring hanging around our necks; we have no choice in the matter. It’s our little burden to bear, no matter what. That burden is nothing compared to the weight of the question that goes along with it, however; what will we do with the time that is given to us?

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