Living The Right Story: A Lesson From Samwise Gamgee

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How’s your year going so far? Nearly three months in and I think I’m only just getting into my stride—hence this being the first blog of 2014. January, while super-productive and exciting, was also pretty hectic. I worked on two major projects: the brand new Oxfam America website, which launched at the end of the month, and a new music video for Paul Brown & The Killing Devils that I filmed in Los Angeles at the beginning of the month. The latter was a ton of fun and I’m now enjoying editing it together (I’ll be sure to keep you posted on when it comes out!). The former, now that it has launched and I can stop to think about it, is one of the most important projects I’ve ever worked on. It’s just a website, right? I could spend this whole post writing about what that means; how it is the face of our organization and a primary method of communication with our community across the US—people who give their time, money, and energy to help make the world a better place. But I’m not going to write a blog about that. Instead, I’m going to write a blog about The Lord of the Rings.

Well, not a blog exactly about The Lord of the Rings, as much as it is about a particular scene from one of The Lord of the Rings movies. Yes, I think about scenes from fantasy movies in my spare time. The funny thing about this one is that it randomly came up twice in the matter of a couple of weeks and from completely different places—a sign that’s probably worth paying attention to.

I was explaining to my friend John how I enjoyed the latest two The Hobbit movies, but that they just didn’t seem to have the same depth as The Lord of the Rings movies. I don’t care much about any of the characters aside from the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, and I don’t feel much emotional connection to the story either. But with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was different. Sure, there are several action-packed fantasy moments and dozens of quotes I still geek out over with friends, but there were also rich characters and beautiful moments that stuck with you. Hey, they stuck with me anyway.

I’ll cut to the chase and point out the scene I talked to John about and, to my delighted surprise, the same scene that Dr. Paul Farmer references in a speech he gave at the University of Miami in 2004, which is featured in his book I’m now reading, To Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation. It happens in The Lord of The Rings: Two Towers, in a moment where everything is going to… shit, for lack of a better word. If you saw the movie you’ll likely remember this exchange between Frodo, the protagonist, and his incredibly loyal friend, Samwise Gamgee.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet (you should!), you may want to read the quote below rather than watch the video clip which sort of contains spoilers.

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

Why am I bringing this up? Why does it resonate with me so much? For the same reason it stuck with Dr. Farmer, I guess. Because even though we don’t have an evil, fiery eye staring down, plotting to destroy our world, with goblins, orcs, and countless other treacherous creatures wreaking havoc, the world we live in is so very convoluted and can feel like it’s overflowing with more darkness than any place J.R.R. Tolkien could have dreamed up on Middle Earth. The conflict in Syria is but one example: over two million people have fled violent conflict that began nearly three years ago. Half of the refugees are children. Many lack proper clothing, shelter, and fuel even amidst these cold winter months. There are far too many examples across the world today in which suffering and deprivation are the norm. Almost one in every three people live in poverty.

“It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here.”

How true that feels. It’s hard think about how in the 21st century, at a time when we’ve come so far in so many ways, we’ve left so much wrong in the world. Cynicism takes over. It’s easy to lose hope in the world and in your ability to shape it into a better place—or even to make any difference at all. But is that the end of the story? Is it the narrative you want to live?

Every day there are people making a difference, overcoming incredible obstacles. There are real stories of people who light the way. My colleague Coco McCabe writes stories of three such women she met during her recent travels to Ethiopia. And there are people like Dr. Farmer, with an abundance of these stories to share and who presents an incredible story himself, dedicating his life to bringing quality health care to people who otherwise would have none.  I read these stories and I think back to the character Samwise; the gardener thrown into an epic adventure upon which the fate of the world rests. By most measures, they and we have reason to throw our hands in the air and give up. We’ll all have bad days where we feel like doing just that. But as Sam says so perfectly, “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”

We can’t single-handedly upgrade the world to the fair, just, and peaceful place we want to see, but as Dr. Farmer explains to the graduating class of future doctors, “So what if you can’t work 37 miracles in whatever time is accorded you? There’s so much you can do, humbly, persistently.” There’s so much we can do.

This year, it’s my goal to keep that narrative at top of mind. Working at Oxfam America is one big way I’ve chosen to commit my life, persistently and humbly, to helping. But it doesn’t end there. One small commitment I’ve laid on top of my job—and one for which I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received so far—is a fun (and healthy!) fundraising project I’m calling #4K4Oxfam. I’ll run a 4K every week this year, sponsored by your donations to Oxfam America, to help people around the world lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.

My contributions to this world are small, and there is always so much more I can do, but they do make a difference. That’s a narrative I plan to explore more deeply this year through this blog. Because together we can toss that ring into Mount Doom and make things right in this world. “A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”



Author: John Abdulla

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  1. Yes. Hold on. Go forward. Dare to love. Keep running…

    (Just gave Tini that book…for Christmas.)

    Love to Bethany!

  2. Well said, John. I completely agree! Sam is very…wise, hah! Keep up the good fight. It’s worth it! Thanks to you and Oxfam for what you do.

  3. Thank you, Patty and Mike for reading and for your comments! I appreciate the encouragement.


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