I Can't Carry It For You, But I Can Carry You
Today's piece is by guest contributor Briana Hedlund.
Sam and Frodo… the ultimate picture of a bromance, of the most true friendship, and of sheer loyalty. When Sam utters this major statement as they near the summit of Mordor, he scoops Frodo onto his back and musters incredible strength to inch them further up the mountain. Like Frodo, we each have burdens to carry… especially during these times. Unlike Frodo, few of us possess friends like Sam, and we could all learn a thing or two from him about how to share the load. In the Christian tradition, there’s a piece of written scripture that expresses this idea:
Galatians 6:2 says “Bear one another’s burdens.”
Yet a couple verses later, it reads: “But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to one another. For each one will bear his own load” (Galatians 6:4 and 5).
A load is the sum of all the good and bad that you gather on the earth while burdens are the oppressive and often worrisome things of life.
Sam did not share the same fate as Frodo, though he tied his journey to him. Although Sam carried the ring for a bit without Frodo’s knowledge, he would not carry it to the fires of Mordor. Nor did he spend as much time carrying the ring as Frodo did. This is again to differentiate the pain and experiences that they had. Ultimately, Frodo had to answer for the fate of the ring. Although Sam did not carry the burden for Frodo, he helped Frodo by carrying him, not the burden. So often in life, we are too hasty to say that we know the problems our friend is dealing with. Many times, someone battling depression or anxiety, a family crisis, or serious illness needs a listening ear or a good cup of tea….or both.
Trying to carry your brother’s burden on top of your own destroys both you and your brother.
Sam is a great example of how to bear a brother’s burden without carrying it away yourself.
First, Sam comes alongside Frodo. Seeing Frodo try to sneak away on a boat at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Sam plunges into the water after him completely aware that he can’t swim.
“Go back Sam!” Frodo shouts, “I am going to Mordor alone.”
To which Sam replies:
“Of course you are, and I’m coming with you!”
Sam ties his journey to Frodo’s, knowing it will require sacrificing comfort and maybe even his life.
Another way Sam shoulders the burden is by encouraging Frodo. Sam is a walking reminder of the Shire. He smuggles a box of spices from home on their journey (in case they want to make a good roasted chicken). He tries to summon good memories of orchards in blossom, birds nesting in the hazel thicket, and the taste of strawberries even while in Mordor. And who could forget his famous speech at the Hornburg fortress in which he proclaims:
“… there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”
Sam helped Frodo through memories of things that are good. By keeping possibilities alive. Frodo himself even comes to believe his optimism at times. At one point, Sam mentions that he has rationed out the Lembas bread, anticipating a return journey home. In a later scene, Sam gives Frodo what is left of his water.
“There’ll be none left for the return journey.”
To which Sam replies:
“I don’t think there will be a return journey, Mr. Frodo.”
This is another important point to note. Here, Sam meets Frodo where he is at. He is honest about the reality they now face. He doesn’t keep his friend hanging on to false hope. For all the two hobbits knew, they really were going to die. Sam is as honest as he knows to be at the time. Granted, Sam lied to Frodo when he stole the ring and carried it in secret for a bit, but he eventually told Frodo. Keeping the ring would have destroyed him.
In addition to being honest, Sam is also steadfast. He willingly follows Frodo to death and recognizes his friend’s moments of weakness with forgiveness no matter how badly they hurt him. For example, when Frodo tells Sam to go home after watching him beat the snot out of Gollum, he does not hesitate to return to Frodo when he finds the Lambus bread that Gollum threw to the bottom of the stairs without Frodo’s knowledge. While anger at Gollum might have been an additional motive, Sam loved Frodo even after he exiled him. This love is demonstrated by his bold attempt to save Frodo. Which brings me to the next quality of a burden-bearing friend: courage.
Sam finds the strength and courage to do incredible things in order to protect his friend, just like Eowyn Lady of Rohan and Merry Brandybuck. Sam does not hesitate to approach Shelob, the hideous spider demon who paralyzes Frodo. Sam, a gardener from the tiny town of Hobbiton, grabs a blade and the light of Earendil and slashes a giant spider. Not to mention he sneaks up to a tower of orcs with the same light and blade knowing full well how outnumbered he is. We, like Sam, must have the courage to reach our friends in dark places, to sit with them even as swirling clouds of darkness fill their minds, or their homes and families crumble about them. And perhaps by our presence and maybe by our deeds, their pain can be eased.
The final and most difficult way a friend can bear burdens is by accepting that your paths are different and encouraging one another in that. One of the most beautiful scenes between the two is when Frodo kisses Sam on the forehead before he leaves to go to the Undying Lands. Frodo knows that what they want in life is different. Sam does not get angry at Frodo for leaving him. He gets sad, but not angry. Frodo also encourages his friend to live out the remainder of his days in the Shire well. Frodo recognizes that Sam’s dreams are different from his, and vice versa. This tends to happen with friends, even close ones, as life goes on and we grow old. Frodo also knows that their pain affected them in different ways. Sam’s pain on the journey to destroy the ring was a constant reminder of the joys of home and the things he wished he did (like talk to Miss Rosie Cotton). Frodo’s pain and the burden of the ring caused him to forget the Shire at moments. His wound from the Morgul-knife still hurt every year on the anniversary of his stabbing at Weathertop. He experienced pain so deep that nothing he knew in his old life could mend it or bring him peace. Frodo did not want the pain, both physical and emotional, that came with remaining in Middle-Earth. So, he chose to go to Valinor, to the Undying Lands.
Frodo explains to Sam: “We set out to save the Shire, Sam. And it has been saved. But not for me.”
Frodo leaves Sam with these words, easing the weight of the burden of remaining in Middle-Earth without his longtime best friend:
“My dear Sam, you cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do. Your part in this story will go on.”
Each of us has unique tasks to complete, individual journeys to take, tiny details in our lives that make us different from anybody else. To forfeit our unique burdens would be the destruction of our character and an early end to our stories. That being said, completing such tasks is a paradox. The completion of one’s unique task often requires the aid of others. They are fulfilled by the individual, yes, but not without help.