“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
If Frodo isn’t certain he’s ready for the journey ahead, then I certainly share his hesitation. The “it” to which Frodo refers is the finding of the Ring by Gollum, as well as the return of Sauron, the primary antagonist in LOTR. For me, “it” is melanoma. Better that it have remained at the bottom of a stream bed for an eternity.
Gandalf’s response to Frodo’s lament is at once heroic and fatalistic. The wizard’s words are heroic because they insist that one must rise to the challenge offered by one’s time. At the same time, there is the suggestion that one is born at a particular time and in a particular place for a certain preordained purpose. The decision is not one’s own to make, however. Gandalf does imply that it is a decision that is made somewhere—that Gandalf’s and Frodo’s “time” has been “given” to them.
My time has been given to me, I believe, by a benevolent God who infuses purpose and focus to all I do. I might wish that it didn’t include a deadly disease, but that wasn’t my choice to make. Now that I’ve once again passed through a dangerous passage of poor health, I see the world opening up to me again in ways I’ve missed for many months. It appears I’ve been given more time—for what purpose exactly I’ve yet to discover.
It’s been almost six weeks since my seizure and three since my adrenal gland insufficiency was diagnosed and my steroid treatment begun. I’ve rebounded strongly and for the first time in months, am planning and dreaming again. I have a Route 66 road trip in the works with a good friend in April, and I’m shooting for a float trip on the Grande Ronde with my family in May. I sense a call to become more involved again in activities at our church. As sung by the Beatles in their classic “Here Comes the Sun,” it’s been a long cold lonely winter. And now the ice is slowly melting. Boy, am I ready to see the sun again.
I’m still under house arrest, medically speaking, as we play it safe and watch for any hint of a second seizure. I’m not driving and won’t be at least until after I speak again with my neurologist on Friday. I learned from the DMV last week that it was not notified of my seizure on Jan. 10, so there’s at least no legal reason why I can’t drive again once I get doctor’s clearance.
The grand mal seizure that I sustained is an “idiopathic” disease, which I figure is a high-flown term to conceal ignorance. The event arose from an obscure or unknown cause, as most seizures do. The doctors can’t tell me what caused it nor predict whether it might happen again. I’ve had brain surgery, so that’s as good a reason as any for having experienced this electrical storm in my brain. I worry that it might happen again, but considering that I’ve already had metastatic melanoma, it’s not something I intend to worry about. A recurrence of cancer is a much greater threat.
This sense of purpose that’s slowly dawning over me, and that is depicted so dramatically in Lord of the Rings, might be called fate or, if you’re a reformed Protestant as I am, predestination. Certain characters in Rings are assigned certain tasks. They must play the part assigned to them regardless of the opposition or the incredible odds against success.
But free will also plays a major part in Tolkien’s novel. Frodo is perhaps the ideal ring-bearer, as his strength of character enables him to accept his fated role, yet he also retains a sense of free will in the face of the powerful, corrupting power of the ring. He must make choices. It’s a fascinating contrast, one I feel at work in my own life as well. I must decide how my medical care will be conducted and how I respond to my disease, but there remains a certain predictability to it. Once cancer has its handhold, it's not easily broken. Its management becomes a dance, with it in the lead and me following.
As Gandalf has sagely advised us, all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. That goes for Hobbits, for those of us with cancer and, quite frankly, for everyone else: how do we proceed through this world of peril and sadness and great beauty with integrity and in peace? It can be done, but not without the exercise of our will or desire. We are not blindly predestined to what might appear to be an unfortunate or simply unwanted fate. I have been granted time and I must decide what to make of it. The sun will soon come out and with it, a smile returns to my face.