On Choice

The Choices of Master Samwise

My choices? Sting and the light of the Elves! (Source)

My choices? Sting and the light of the Elves! (Source)

What of the choices of Master Samwise, spider-slayer, Ring-bearer, long-musing? For choices abound throughout this chapter for the gardening Gamgee, both unintentional (as when he fights with Shelob) and deliberate (his long discernment over Frodo). That Sam so often doubts himself, changes his mind, and ends up questioning his own decisions might suggest the bumbling actions of a man of both untested leadership and unquestionable grief.

However, such bumbling decisions are the most valuable choices to be made. For if Sam had originally choose to remain by Frodo’s side, then they would have been discovered by the Orcs, the Ring would have been taken, and all would have been lost. Yet if Sam had taken the Ring and not turned back to rescue Frodo, then he would have not likely made it to the slopes of Mt. Doom, for Frodo’s captured mithril coat (as we shall see) will play a necessary role in allowing the Ring to pass the Tower of Cirith Ungol. In both his original courage for the burden and his returning love for his Master, Sam helps move the Quest towards a happy conclusion. The journey of the Fellowship has always been a path drawn straight with crooked lines.

The detail of Master Samwise’s decisions runs even deeper. We gain a rich glimpse of Sam’s soul in the unfolding of his choices. He ponders over the traditional responses to death: raging revenge, desolate suicide, and reaffirmed commitment to a cause. He struggles through shock, anger, grief, mourning, and indecision. He recalls past experience that seemed fated to impact this moment and questions his own place in the grand brush strokes of the story. Even in his delusion and weakness, he maintains his loyalty to both cause and master.

In short, the choices of Master Samwise are the choices faced by us all. At times when in the straits of great difficulty or stress we make decisions by instinct and courage: only through the practice of virtue, the holding of good habits, and the possession of firm trust will we keep the sword-point up to defend against that which would crush up. At times, however, the war is waged against ourselves in the discernment of difficult decisions and unseemly options. We may questions ourselves and our reasoning; we may doubt our own strength and ability; we may take one road only to moments later retrace our steps. Choice is both the blessing and cost of being human. That these modern times be filled with overwhelming and obfuscating options is not for us to question, but instead, as Gandalf spoke, to decide what to do with them.

In the end, we are like Master Samwise: we discern to the best of our ability, choosing with small courage and humility, and often wondering what we have done. Yet we remember the choices of Master Samwise and their ultimate end: while imperfect, they worked toward the good. If we keep our eyes fixed on what’s true, our minds focused on what’s right, and our hearts set upon what’s loved, our small decisions in their little consolation and desolation can help turn the wheels of the world for the better. And though we, like Sam, may not know so now, yet even the choice to take up the Ring might unite us most deeply to that which we love before the end comes.

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