Child #3 was having a hard time helping me paint sets. It may have been her 103 degree fever, or the 95 degree July day.
Hey, the champion ribbon at the County Fair was on the line. No true champion lets a little thing like feverish delirium keep her from her task.
We were doing double-duty. These sets would not only be on stage when I directed The Hobbit in the fall, but they would also be her Theater Arts project for the fair. We are nothing if not resourceful.
But I think her confusion was more than the heat.
I set said child to an easy task—paint Bilbo Baggins' mailbox. And by mailbox, I meant plastic orange expandable file folder I thought would do in a pinch. “Bilbo Baggins. Bag End, Bagshot Row, Hobbiton, The Shire.” It seemed simple.
The objections began.
“No one has an address like that. He would never really get mail.”
“Well, he does. Just grab a Sharpie and get it done.”
“Why is the door round? No one can actually open a round door. It couldn't even have hinges.”
I didn't mention that she had a valid point there. How on earth were we going to hinge a round door? Thirteen dwarves and a wizard had to stumble through that thing without breaking its tenuous low-budget styrofoam. Drat Tolkien—a rectangle would definitely have presented fewer problems for community theater.
By the time we finished constructing Bag End, child #3 had questioned most fantastical aspects of Middle-earth with her practical, how-will-this-ever-work sensibility. I shudder to imagine how her Middle-earth would have gone down had she written the tale. “The Hobbit: Not Even Going There So I Don't Have to Come Back Again.”
Child #3 prefers realistic fiction and realistic life, and there is nothing wrong in that. But sometimes, one has to stretch one's mind far enough to encompass an orange mailbox and a green, round door. Sometimes, unless we're willing to recognize other worlds, we don't really grasp living in our own.
We were painting sets for The Hobbit, a story in which someone leaves his comfortable world and becomes an unlikely hero in someone else's. And child #3 couldn't enter the story because she couldn't get past the aspects of it that didn't fit her standard world. But not being able to enter another's world makes heroic deeds impossible. Heroes are not made in the Shire. It's a place created for comfort and sameness. It never comprehends the outside world. So no one who hasn't ever left ever becomes a hero.
There are a lot of places we'd rather not go there or back again. We'd rather not know there are places where pre-teen girls are sold in back rooms. We'd prefer not to recognize there are entire nations where young women are executed for wanting an education, showing an ankle, or becoming a Christian. We wish to pretend the heroin addict we just passed does not have a mother terrified every time the phone rings or a sister who looks remarkably “normal” like us.
These are other worlds. We'd much rather live in our own and believe orange mailboxes don't happen, doors are never round, and dragons aren't real.
But they are.
The Shire is wonderful, but nothing worthy of a great story ever happens there. Your comfortable surroundings are beautiful, but nothing of worth will happen there. It requires grasping a story that is far bigger and grander and unbelievable than the one you inhabit. It involves stretching yourself to see another person's world and not just see it but understand it.
That is exactly what Jesus did when he came to this outlandish, unbelievable place to become one of us. He could have stayed comfortable. But the epic story of the redemption and rebirth of you, me, and all creation did not happen in comfort. It happened in a grimy, smelly stable with grimy, smelling, sinful people he had to reach way farther to comprehend than we will ever have to reach for anything.
Nothing worthy of a great story ever happens unless you stretch yourself to go into another person's world.