On Longing and Desire: In the December of Our Years

Bilbo and Gandalf

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line Cinemas, 2001)

There’s a scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that haunts me. Bilbo and Gandalf, both very old friends (those are the best kind, aren’t they: those that have lived life together, have shared adventures, and have endured even a few scars along the way), sit in an evening twilight overlooking a scene of festivity: the illuminated tents pitched in the lush countryside, which are setting the stage for the celebration of Bilbo’s 111th birthday. These two souls, in complete repose, smoke a pipe together. And what this scene reminds me of, among other things, is this: similar such nights with a good friend: Scotch and cigars on the back deck of a home in Columbus, Ohio; and of a similar moment in time in Denver, Colorado, on the second story patio one Memorial Day weekend while all the world was hushed. They are moments of unlooked for, unexpected, and undeserved contentedness: a reaching back, as it were, to the beginning of all things.

Now, admittedly, in a Blog which dedicates itself to the idea that a truly human life is one lived in continuity with the Seasons of the Year, this will seem an odd way to begin a post in mid-December, at a time when company Christmas parties carry the day. But let me suggest that the theme hinted at by this opening scene is not out of step with the Season, not if you consider that the way we celebrate Christmas in America finds its genesis in a Victorian Christmas, as so eloquently captured by Dicken’s A Christmas Carol (which, by the way, is the anticipated topic of the next two posts). And in this more ancient tradition, it was customary to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, a celebration, however, which does not get underway until Christmas Day: the First Day of Christmas (please see “On Winter: Part One”). And in the days and weeks that anticipate this festive Day (and the eleven days that follow it), the focus is on something else all together: the theme of Desire and of Longing, a theme which seems so natural to a time of a near-absent sun, snowflakes, and quiet contemplation. It is in keeping with this spirit that the opening thoughts of today’s post should be taken.

And so then the question that concerns us in this time of year–that is, in the weeks and days leading up to those Twelve Days of Merriment–is this: “What is it that we truly long for?” As a way of accessing it all: what songs, what memories, what places, and what scenes stir up for us desire itself? In regards to those songs, listen to them. Regarding the memories, call them to mind. For the places, go there (if you can). As for the scenes, watch them. I’ll end by sharing my list of music which–embarrassingly–may just be my subconscious mind anticipating the feature film release at midnight tonight of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Think of it, if you will, as a toast to Desire: “May It Be” as performed by, among others, Hayley Westenra; “Aniron“, as performed by Enya; and “Evenstar” by Shane McDonnell. Listening to these truly haunting pieces brings up so palpably that which in the warmer months may lay, as it were, dormant.

Naked Trees in Twilight

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