It’s Tolkien Reading Day, set for today because in The Lord of the Rings, the heroes managed to overthrow the villain on March 25. In allowing his characters to triumph, however, Tolkien underscores another continuing theme in his books, that of kindness. In honor of one of my favorite writers, it’s a good day to discuss what his writings can teach us about the importance of kindness in our dealings with our foster children or stepchildren.
I am not naturally a patient person. I have always joked that God didn’t give me patience because He did not want me to waste time waiting for things to happen. Unfortunately, impatience often leads to less kindness than I intend or need in the moment. I always sympathize with Frodo when he learns that Gollum, who lost a powerful magic ring to Frodo’s cousin Bilbo in a contest of wits, has told the villain where the ring can be found. “But this is terrible!” cried Frodo. “What am I to do? What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!”
The response that Tolkien wrote for Gandalf is striking. “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.” Later, when Frodo actually encounters Gollum, he says, “Now that I see him, I do pity him.” Frodo treats Gollum with kindness and, in the end, Gollum plays a key part in the downfall of the book’s villain. As Gandalf predicted, “the pity of Bilbo [ruled] the fate of many.”
This theme of pity, mercy, and kindness is an important one in Tolkien’s writings. As I noted in my last blog post, Tolkien had more reason than most people to become bitter and hold grudges. Yet, he managed to move past his childhood and wartime trauma to write one of the most enduring books of the 20th century. He recognized that kindness and letting go of even reasonable grievances is essential to remaining emotionally healthy. As he phrased it in one of his letters, “Frodo (and the Cause) were saved—by Mercy: by the supreme value and efficacy of Pity and forgiveness of injury.”
When we are dealing with children who do not like us and try to make our lives miserable, we need to hold on to that example. Gollum was not honorable, but Frodo owed him kindness. We owe our kids, no matter how obnoxious, the same kindness. It is not a matter of what they deserve, but what kind of people we want to be.
I know that the task is difficult, and I know that kids have a knack for knowing exactly what to say to irritate or enrage us. Our job, though, is to show them how to respond calmly and kindly to those provocations. We may be the only people who can do that for them. There really is no other way to care for them.
The writers of the Hobbit said it best in a line that did not come from Tolkien’s writings, but fits his spirit. Gandalf, in explaining his choice of a hobbit for a brave quest, says, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” We may not be able to ever completely heal our children’s emotional scars, but we can show them small acts of kindness and love.