Last month, I decided to reread Tolkien’s The Hobbit in preparation for my own upcoming adventure. I thought it might help me psych myself up to be brave—and it did. In fact, there was one particular moment from the story that stayed with me. It’s when timid Bilbo is creeping down the tunnel to the dragon’s lair. He’s questioning himself as he descends—wondering why he joined the group of of dwarves in the first place. Gradually, the tunnel begins to grow warm and glow red ahead of him. Tolkien writes,
It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.
This month, I’ve been feeling a little like Bilbo must have felt in that tunnel. I’m not headed towards a fire-breathing dragon, but I am stepping out into the unknown. And, to be honest, I’m scared.
Yesterday, a dear friend texted me these words: Don’t be afraid to be afraid: courage and trust are empty if there is nothing to fear. And he is right. So here I am stepping out— freshly turned twenty-four and clad in Levertov’s Pilgrim Sandals. It’s going to be an adventure.
If it’s chariots or sandals
I’ll take sandals.
I like the high prow of the chariot,
the daredevil speed, the wind
a quick tune you can’t
. but I want to go
a long way
and I want to follow
paths where wheels deadlock.
. And I don’t want always
to be among gear and horses,
. blood, foam, dust. I’d like
to wean myself from their strange allure.
the pilgrim sandals.