“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when, in your heart you begin to understand: there is no going back?”
These words from one of the closing scenes of the movie Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, (LOTR: ROTK), the final installment of Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of the classic trilogy, brought a wrenching reaction in me I did not expect. Having read the books many times over, I was prepared for Frodo’s dreadful choice at Mount Doom and the many poignant partings. I came to the theater adequately supplied with tissue. What I didn’t expect was to have it hit home. I felt like I’d been sucker punched.
I suppose we’ve all survived something. We all have markers in the landscape of our lives, ‘before’ and ‘after’. Whether it is the death of a loved one, a serious illness or surgery, or simply a change of jobs or relocating. Much of my survival stuff surrounds a spiritually abusive, cult-like church. I’d been a part of the group for 20 years. Married and raised my children in it. When it collapsed, all in a day, I was left stranded, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically. It took almost ten years of spiritual numbness to even begin the recovery process. The beginning-of-the-end of numbness came in December 2001, with the opening of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.
Like millions of other fans around the world I had waited and watched, logged on to my computer every day to seek out new images and updates just hoping the movie wouldn’t be as disappointing as earlier attempts had been. I was not disappointed. After my first viewing, I wanted to immediately buy another ticket and see it again. (I had to wait until the next day.) I watched it repeatedly in the theater (37 times). I listened to the soundtrack 8 hours a day at work, and regretted having to take off the headphones to go home. The themes and characters became my daily bread and companions. I had never, in all the years of reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s great work, ever seen the spiritual images that now leapt off the screen. I was seeing new aspects of Christ with each viewing. The music alone often moved me to tears, remembering the tenderness and fierceness of Christ’s love for me.
In coming out of that abusive, cult-like church, I heard a presentation by David Clark, well-known exit counselor. Among other things he said that when a person comes out of an extended period of trauma, such as kidnapping, or an abusive situation, such as a cult, they find themselves emotionally, mentally, psychologically and in many other ways, at the same place they were when they went in. That is to say, no growth or development takes place while in that environment. So, at age 50, I found myself picking up the threads of my life as it had been at age 20, when I first got involved. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever feel ‘normal’, or at least whole and healthy again.
LOTR: ROTK evoked emotional responses from the audience almost from the beginning. Sniffles and even weeping could be heard throughout the viewing. Faramir’s desperate charge played against Pippin’s haunting song “Edge of Night”, the death of Theoden, to name a couple.
But as Frodo wrestled with the memories of his ordeal I thought, as I sat in the theater watching it for the first time, ‘I am likely the only one in this audience that is reacting to that particular line’. Later I was talking with someone who mentioned the universality of many of the scenes, and how so many of them could impact any one of us. When I next viewed ROTK, and it came to that scene, I remembered what my friend had said. I pondered how others might view this.
War veterans came to mind, especially WWII vets. I just thought how they had gone to war, young men out of school, fresh faced, and innocent, and into the horror and chaos of battle. Then, when it was over, they came back and were supposed to go back to ‘normal’ life and be their old happy selves. Of course, today we know how extraordinarily difficult that was. Yet, they were expected to pick up the threads of an old life and go on, with little or no recognition of, nor accommodation for their trauma. I’m not sure much has changed, though I think we at least recognize the struggle.
Then I thought of all those who have lost a loved one suddenly, or multiple family members to car accidents, floods, fire, and other catastrophes, even divorce. I realized we all have seasons in our lives. Dark times we must pass through, and even not-so-dark times, like going away to college or on an extended journey that takes us well out of our comfort zones. These things change us in ways we could not have anticipated. I didn’t feel so singular anymore, and it was some comfort. However, few could identify with twenty years of captivity and mind control.
Then I thought: what was it like for Jesus to go back to heaven?
He had just spent 30+ years in a male human body. He was betrayed by one who was supposedly His friend. While it’s true He knew all this was supposed to happen, that can’t have made it any easier. He prayed, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass from me…’ He was not really too excited about dying, especially at the hands of brutal Roman soldiers. As Sabatini wrote, “A man may not fear to die, and yet be appalled by the form in which death comes to him.” If you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the images of His suffering are vivid and haunting.
However, once it was over, ‘finished’, I wondered, how did Jesus feel going back to heaven? Did His sojourn among us change Him? How did He pick up the threads of His old life? Like Frodo, His wounds will never fully heal.
So this has become my prayer ‘How do I pick up the threads of an old life…’, for I know He understands.