On Tombs

The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

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And what shall be written? (Source)

A tomb: that is all that remains of Balin and his company of dwarves save for the scattered swords and bones around it. A stone, with only the barest of details: a name, a lineage, a title. Were it not for the discovery of the book of the history of the expedition, this would be all the anyone would ever know of the great attempt to retake Moria, and the dwarves that made up it. A name, a lineage, and a title.

Even with the book, very little can be made out. It is not clear what happens to the book after the Fellowship take it, whether it ever made its way to King Dain and to the people of the Lonely Mountain for further study. It disappears into Gimli’s pack, perhaps lost or damaged even further in the adventures that lay ahead. In those brief (yet perhaps unwise) moments that Gandalf has to skim the book for clues, we gain some little insights: key words and phrases, fortuitously spared paragraphs and un-cracked leaves. It is enough information for the purposes of a narrative, but not nearly enough knowledge to soothe the concern of a dwarven heart, the uncertainty and grief Gloin brought to the Council of Elrond.

Yet this is all that remains of Balin and his dwarven brethren: a tomb and a book, a name, a lineage, and a title. How little that is: and yet how much more than what many of us will leave behind! As our deaths melt into the passing of time, what will be remembered of us? If there is any text left behind, will it remained unaltered and un-ravaged? Or will it instead having missing pages and lost sections, words guessed at and hypotheses laid down? No one remembers that predecessor and successor of the Roman governor of Judea in the time of Christ, and Pilate is only remembered for his role in what he probably thought was a small, insignificant, and passing affair. How many more are like Balin, buried in the depths under rubble and rock?

A name, a lineage, and a title: that was what was on Balin’s tomb, and what remains ingrained in the memories of the Fellowship. It what recalled the fond relationship between Bilbo and Balin to Frodo’s mind: we are left to wonder what pleasant experience or joyous occasions flickered up in the thoughts of Gimli or Gandalf. That is what little remained, even at the end. We who know that such an end will be ours – in unknown season, by unknown means – must consider the tomb, and what is written upon it. For Balin, it is himself, his heritage, and his aspiration. What shall we inscribe upon the tombs of our lives?

For even as we pass, we leave behind such tombs: half-destroyed books and dusty stones that may only surface a few tantalizing details of what lay behind them. They occur, both between verses and at the song’s final conclusion, and though they may fade, they linger long. And in the end there is only one everlasting book, one stone upon which is etched that which cannot be forgotten. The great Christian hope is to find our names there, in lineage of Christ, and with the title of our deepest aspiration: saint.


2016’s Reflection: “On Finding Oneself Suddenly Faced by Something One Has Never Met Before
2015’s Reflection: “On Being Already Weary

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