I recently saw The Hobbit in theaters, and I’ve been reflecting on “home” ever since. I knew the story, having grown up hearing Tolkien’s book read to me, watching the old illustrated film, and reading the book for myself at some point. It’s a great tale about a world you wish could be visited in person and filled with colorful characters that steal your heart.
Bilbo is the hobbit who leaves the Shire after Gandalf the wizard convinces him to join him and a host of dwarves on an adventure. The Shire has taken on new significance for me since last July, when I left my home at the time to move to Dallas. A dear friend passed on some advice that had been given to her during her last move — to find a walking stick “for leaving the Shire” and to carve in it the date I left. I followed her advice as I embarked on a new chapter of my journey. Every time I see that stick I think of where I’ve come from and I remember that there’s only going forward.
It’s no easy thing for Gandalf to convince Bilbo to leave the Shire and his home Bag End — after all, he is one part Took and one part Baggins. It is the Baggins in him that makes him quite content to stay in his safe and comfortable home. But Gandalf appeals to the Took in him — the love of adventure that also runs in his blood. This quote from the movie resonates with any of us who have embarked on an adventure:
Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo Baggins: Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same.
So Bilbo leaves the Shire, and the motley crew sets out on their journey. Gandalf tells Bilbo, “Home is now behind you. The world is ahead.” As they cover ground and vanquish foes, Bilbo learns about the dwarves and their lost homeland. While he misses the Shire, Bilbo is struck by his fellow quest-ers whose only home is one they’ve never seen in their lifetime. During an exchange in the movie, one of them says to Bilbo, “We’re dwarves. We don’t belong anywhere.” By the end of the film (which is the first of 3), Bilbo has crafted a personal mission out of this difference between a hobbit and a dwarf. He says to the dwarf-king:
I know you doubt me, I know you always have, and you’re right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my arm chair, and my garden. See, that’s where I belong; that’s home, and that’s why I came cause you don’t have one… a home. It was taken from you, but I will help you take it back if I can.
I left the theater wondering, “Am I a dwarf or a hobbit?” Do I have a place I call home and always pine for no matter where my journey takes me? Or am I still looking for “home,” and is that partly what my journey is about? In many ways I am a restless person. In other ways I might as well be a home-body. I guess the question of dwarf or hobbit may be a false dichotomy; Bilbo himself had both Baggins and Took coursing through his veins. Maybe it’s possible to be part dwarf-part hobbit.
So where do I belong? There are multiple places where I’ve spent significant time and where I’m always hit with a wave of nostalgia when I visit. I’ve returned to a couple of those places during my break in Pennsylvania. This question of finding home has certainly come up in my ponderings before. Here are some reflections I wrote back in July:
Lately the Lord has been bringing to my mind all those places and people from my 24 years, and I’m realizing that, though they’re not all in the same spot, they are each pieces of home to me – the places I lived with my family growing up, the friends in different countries who took me in, even the homes where I stayed only briefly but truly felt welcomed. It’s when I stand so close and can only see the broken pieces that I’m tempted to be sad at the thought of another departure. But the Lord has gently been nudging me to take a step back and look at the beautiful mosaic of home that the pieces create.
Now it’s January of a new year, and I still like this picture of home as a mosaic — and one that is still being created. I learned a proverb from Tata Anicet this past semester that I’ve held onto. He once said, “In Lari, we have a saying that goes, ‘Family is everyone that is in your mind.’” Now that makes a lot of sense to me. Many people and many places are in my mind when I think of family and home. Whether that makes me part dwarf or part Lari, I’m not sure. Either way, the adventure has just begun and the world is ahead!