The Passing of the Grey Company
by Samantha Lin
This chapter is horrible. Tolkien pulls out all the depressing stops: two chapters previous we learned that Sam royally screwed up and Frodo is captured by Orcs; Merry and Pippin, better friends than most married couples, are separated; Eowyn is again rebuffed; Aragorn literally walks with the Dead.
The oppressive atmosphere of fear suffocates our separated fellowship and blinds them. The darkness of Sauron infiltrates their lives with despair. Eowyn in her anguish, in her pride, begs Aragorn not to relegate her to a “cage.” When he leaves she can only see useless old age void of glory and honor. Gimli, the last of the Grey Company, sees only darkness and is “pursued by a groping horror that seemed always just about to seize him.” The cold, seeping fear of the approaching war, of the Paths of the Dead, of the uncertainty of their roles in the great movement of things, seizes their hearts and clouds their minds.
Fear, uncertainty, dread: I empathize with their growing anxiety, can feel an icy hand about close around my heart and, like Eowyn, can feel my face blanche when I think about the future. I know not where I will be next year and when I try to imagine my life in September I literally come up blank. Every morning I pray for ten silent minutes and for the past two weeks, have shouted at God, begging for His divine hand to reach down and point in the right direction. To no one’s surprise He hasn’t yet done so.
We are in the dregs of Lent. Five weeks of solemnity, of fasting (I miss meat so much I could eat an entire cow if given the opportunity), of penance, of knowing that this all ends with our savior hanging from a tree. We too are on the Paths of the Dead, having a dim idea of the end but getting so lost in our own fear that, like Gimli, we become disoriented and forgetful.
But this place on the Paths of Dead is where we are meant to be. And in that intentionality there is hope. Aragorn presses through the “chill blast” of fear and death with the deep knowledge of his birthright; he was meant to call the oathbreakers, meant to be heralded by the King’s standard (Spoiler alert: that’s what the black furled flag is), meant to unite Men in one last glorious stand. We too take hope in our birthright, in the knowledge of God’s plans for us. “Open wide your mouth that I may fill it!” (Psalm 81:11). We are to be vessels of His goodness, brimming with life and love. Sadly (joyously?) we are only human and thus, by our very nature, were not meant to know all that is coming. But we rest in the knowledge that it is good; that after death there is always a chance for redemption.
So like Gimli we must stumble on, at times “crawling like a beast on the ground,” but with the knowledge that we are where we are meant to be. For, as Hafiz says:
“This place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you.
Wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move
Against the earth and sky,
The Beloved has bowed there —
Our Beloved has bowed there knowing
You were coming.”