Friday, February 1, 2013

The gnome of Jackson Ave.

The thought of reporting on my health status beyond what I posted last night (below) bores me. My editorial assistant (daughter Allison) has been directed to bring you the news promptly any time I should keel over from some random brain dysfunction. I’ll get back to my recent medical misadventure soon. There's definitely a tale or two to be told about that.

Instead, I want to return from my hiatus by telling a fable about a new friend of mine. First, some background.

We have dear friends, the Taylors, with whom we’ve shared important moments over the years. Tom, a really interesting, gadget-loving engineer, and I have shared in a long-running ministry at our church in which a handful of men spend a few hours once a month helping out around the homes of some of the old gals in our congregation so they can continue living independently. It’s fun and Tom does a great job at keeping the program running. Leetra is an artist, works with special ed kids, and is an accomplished mischief-maker.

Tom and Leetra’s daughter, Allison, was Ellen’s first real volunteer back in the days when we were providing summer activities for the neighborhood kids at Acorn. They became fast friends. Our lives (Taylors and Ogles) have become intertwined in ways we could never have imagined. It’s just one of those small, slowly unfolding joys of life that doesn't happen by accident.

We have experienced countless acts of kindness from friends and family in recent months. All have been appreciated. But the unexpected gift that arrived at the back door on Tuesday has become something much more than a simple “get well soon” message.

No Me, the gnome
My son-in-law Jon and I were sitting on the living room couch when Allie came in with the mail and a mysterious gift bag that had been hand-delivered to the mail slot. I popped it open and out popped the gnome you see here.

Jon exclaimed “Oh, look, a gnome.” I heard improperly what he said and just blurted out, “No Me. That’s his name; it’s not just what he is.” I wanted a name that revealed and didn't merely identify. The name has stuck and his mythology is already growing. I’ve decided that No Me is from Nome and that he speaks a kind of Elvish. Anyone can receive his blessing by touching the tip of his felt cap with an index finger. Jon suggested we bestow sainthood on him, but I think we need a good miracle out of No Me before he can ascend to that status. Until then, he’ll remain simply the “Gnome of Jackson Avenue.”

No Me brought merriment and an emotional lift to our home on a gray day when it was badly needed. There’s nothing like a jolly, little elf who looks like he’s just staggered out of a some Middle-earth tavern to brighten your day.

Any ol’ gnome would have been a delight to receive as a gift, but knowing that this little man is the creation of Leetra’s hands and inspired imagination makes No Me so much more special. It seems such a conspicuous example of God’s grace that Leetra would feel inspired to send this simple handicraft to me and that I, at such a spiritually vulnerable moment, could receive it with such delight. It’s amazing what a few snippets of fabric, including what appears to be a piece of an old sock for a face, and a touch of magic can do for a heavy human heart.

The rest of this may induce some eye-rolling, but shortly after No Me arrived, I realized the spelling of his name was not just a phonetic rendering of gnome but also, to whomever hears it this way, the call of Christ to “Know me.” Not just read about me or respect me, but know me. But know whom exactly? Who gets to decide? Why Christ and not, say, Dionysus?

My answer: because this is my fable and I get to decide what things mean. Part of what I love about the fictional writing of Tolkien is the care and subtlety he shows as a fantasy writer who had a deep Catholic faith with the conspicuously Christian qualities of many of the main characters who reside in his legendarium—including my favorite, Gandalf. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is not the Christian gospel, but the telling of an epic adventure in a world hatched in Tolkien’s fertile mind that treats with respect and theological subtlety what many will recognize as Christian themes.

Gnomes were very much part of Tolkien’s Middle-earth creation, but don’t make an appearance in the movie version of LOTR. Had they needed one, central casting could hardly have done better than to send over a life-sized version of No Me. Not dashing like Legolas or gravely noble like Elrond, No Me nevertheless possesses outstanding qualities (stoutness of heart?) that will begin to fully reveal themselves as our life together proceeds.

OK. This may all be just the goofy ramblings of a fevered mind, but if so, then imagine what Tolkien’s wife must have thought when she read J.R.R.’s early manuscripts. "Is this man mad?" Now that Leetra and I have loosed No Me on the world, there’s no telling where his legend may spread.


grsmouse said...

dnaJust had to print a copy of this post for digesting. What a glorious thought. Tolkien would no doubt approve.

Unknown said...

I love this story!

Carl Pelz said...

Delightful story with more than merely the ring of truth!