“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo — the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing — this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”
So said portly companion and unflinching friend Samwise Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” the J.R.R. Tolkien book that was adapted into a movie of the same name by Peter Jackson in 2002. I would know, because I just watched it. Again. I watch the same three movies consecutively on the same Sunday every year.
It’s not because I’m predictable (which I am.) And it’s not because I love “The Lord of the Rings” (which I do). And it’s not because Arwen the Elf played an important role in my puberty (which she did).
It’s because, especially now, silly rituals are essential.
In the crushing shadow of coronavirus, they’re also endangered — inevitably so. Last weekend, some public parks were closed. Restaurants and bars and boutiques and barbershops, too. Wedding season has been suspended. March Madness was canceled and the Summer Olympics and Masters were postponed.
These were necessary steps. But that doesn’t make the void any easier to ignore. COVID-19 has stolen lives and jobs and timeworn traditions. It has robbed us of our routines; it has deprived us of our diversions. It has replaced the people and things we love with this indefinite unease.
Take Easter Sunday, for example. Church services were canceled. Families were forced apart. Easter egg hunts were done at a socially acceptable distance. It wasn’t ordinary for anyone.
But hopefully, we found small ways to celebrate — to feel something familiar, to take comfort where we could.
So, about my silly ritual: It started in 2011, when I was a sophomore journalism major at the University of Missouri. My friends and I lived too far away to go home for the Easter holiday. So, instead, we planned an impromptu party.
This included a medically distressing buffet of grease-soaked, artery-assaulting, cheese-filled frozen foods — chicken strips and mozzarella sticks and cinnamon-glazed monstrosities. Brooke — our host — made enough Rice Krispies treats to feed the cast and crew from all three films. We ate like kings, assuming said kings were actually sugar-addicted 7-year-olds who pilfered their parents’ wallets. To quote Morgan Freeman’s Ellis Boyd Redding, “We were the lords of all creation.” We were happy, and unhealthy. Our hearts and bellies were both full.
We watched “The Fellowship of the Ring” (runtime: 2 hours, 58 minutes). And then we watched “The Two Towers” (runtime: 2 hours, 59 minutes). And then we watched “The Return of the King” (runtime: 3 hours, 21 minutes). And then we did it the next year, and the next year, and the next. After graduating, I moved to Wyoming, and then to Indiana, and then to Washington. My friends spread to Iowa and Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri, and Austin, Texas. It didn’t matter. For 10 hours every Easter, we were together all the time.
And, to be clear, the actual act is irrelevant. We each have our “Lord of the Rings.” It can be football on Thanksgiving or fireworks on the Fourth of July. It can be a movie or a game or a show or a hobby.
It’s the shared experiences — the traditions — that tether us to each other, that keep us all together even when we’re forced apart.
Which brings us back to Sunday. I sat on my couch at 12:45 p.m., inhaling a turkey and cheddar sandwich, the lord of all creation. I was transported back in time. I sent photos to my friends while a haggard hobbit named Frodo Baggins bemoaned his sorry state.
“I wish none of this had happened,” he said.
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide,” responded Gandalf, the wise gray wizard with rebelliously bushy eyebrows. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
In the present darkness, then, I can decide to stay home — to be responsible. I can decide to call my parents. I can decide to watch three movies consecutively on the same sunny Sunday, too.
We can all do the little things — whatever they are, however silly they seem — that make us feel closer to the ones we love. That remind us we’re not alone. That help us, each day, to shake off the passing shadow.
Because, even now, some silly rituals must survive.
How are you staying grounded? Tell us.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of our routine lives.
How are you staying connected to a sense of normalcy? Tell us about something or someone that is bringing you joy or helping you feel grounded right now and why.
For example, what kinds of activities have you taken up? How have your relationships changed? What has become more important to you at this time?
Share your story below, and it could become a part of a photo portrait/vignette series.