Not all who wander are lost
It’s a lovely quote, by Tolkien, don’t you think? It’s everywhere these days. As if Tolkien meant it to be a badge people wear.
“I’m wandering: but I’m not lost.”
But don’t go manufacturing buttons and bumper stickers just yet. We all wander…but whether you are lost or not depends on if you are Aragorn, a Hobbit, or Tom Bombadil. Here, let me explain.
The oft quoted phrase is the second line of a poem in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. Here, you can look at it in context:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all who wander are lost;
The old that is strong shall not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
You can see, especially in the last line, this is a poem that is identifying Aragorn; ranger and future king. Aragorn is wandering middle earth until such time as the fellowship is formed, and the darkness is beat back.
Is that you, then?
Do you wander like Aragorn?
The confident type, sure of yourself and your future. Wandering the land with a purpose, biding your time to set things right.
Except, I don’t remember Aragorn advertising his relative location, or lack of one. That is, when Aragorn was wandering he was in school. He was training to be that which he was created to be: the future king. Until that time, he laid low, reading the times, coming forward when the time was right. And still, sitting in the shadows.
In fact, it is only when Aragorn is not wandering anymore, that he plays a significant role in the story. He cannot wander and fulfill his destiny at the same time. Wandering, for Aragorn, is a time of preparation.
He wouldn’t wear the pin.
Do you wander like a hobbit?
But maybe, you find yourself more closely relating to Hobbits who, trying to avoid problems on the road take to the forest. There you follow the path clearly laid out, until you think it’s wrong. Always trying to avoid trouble, you turn again, trying to make your way North. But the forest won’t have it. It closes you off and sets you on it’s own direction until you get tired and lay down for a rest.
What you don’t know, is that by traveling through the forest, you have twisted your path. You’ll still get to where you need to go. But by a long and wandering route, and definitely not by heading true north. And this is okay.
You aren’t supposed to search out the dark riders. You aren’t supposed to set yourself on harms way.
Wander through the forest, if you will. But for heaven’s sake. Stay on the path.
Otherwise you may find yourself tuckered out from fighting – unnecessarily – the right path. The forest path turns, and it leads you down to the water. It looks downhill from where you are, and maybe even a little bit dark. But, it’s water. And aren’t you thirsty? Don’t you want to bathe?
This is the danger of wandering through the forest. It’s hard to see the path. But it’s there.
Still, if you are like a hobbit, you are tired from all the fighting. You are weary and you feel lost.
You have wandered and you feel lost and you are exhausted.
Is that you, then?
It’s been me.
And what should we do? Do we lay down in the midst of danger, too groggy to go on? Give up in despair so that we nearly lose our life? Do we fight to take it back? Do we run away and scream calling for help? Or do we just wait for the help we know is on the way?
If any of those sound like the way you wander, the likes of a hobbit, you haven’t anything to fear.
Help comes to you, my friend.
Call out. That is, if you set out wandering, and find yourself lost. You need only ask for help.
But don’t wear the pin.
Do you wander like Tom Bombadil?
Finally, there are those in life who most closely resemble a Tom Bombadil. He’s a quiet fellow, and most don’t really hear of him. He isn’t perfect, to be sure, but he knows his way around a forest. And wanders through it.
Picking the lilies, knowing the trees, singing the hymns; that’s old Tom for ya.
And what of it, then? The Tom’s of this world find the poor wandering souls of the forest and bring them inside. They feed them, and give them their thirst of pure, clean water. You tell stories of the ancient of days, and describe the ways of the forest. You shelter your fellow wanderers from the evil, and allow the cool breeze from the mountain top to float in through the window.
And then, when your guests leave your home and find themselves in immediate trouble, you go out to them again. And pick them up and escort them to the edge of your land. To the edge of where you know.
That is, while you are out gathering beauty, you stop to share it with your fellow wanderers.
That’s what Old Tom Bombadil does.
So no. He wouldn’t wear a pin. And neither should you.
We all wander.
We wander to learn. Or we wander to avoid a necessary evil. And sometimes, we wander to collect the beauty.
But wandering isn’t a place where one dwells.
It’s not the fulfillment of a destiny, the longterm solution to any problem, or anyplace to set up a home.
Are you wandering?
Is it time to come in?