How to be Happy: a Fable by Tolkien
Not a fable by Tolkien; dreamed 1994/6/16 by Chris Wayan
I'm living in a short fable by J.R.R. Tolkien, set in a small English village, in some timeless time.
I'm the village librarian, a shy, single woman, a bit sad that I only have my books. But at least I have my books.
A video just came in, and I'm watching it before putting it on the shelf. It's a how-to lesson. How to be more socially sensitive, how to make friends... how to run my life differently. A religious sort of tape. Others in the village are experimenting with behaviors they've seen on TV or read about... different gender constructions, manners, politics or habits, like ALWAYS telling the truth--or being silent unless words are needed, not merely wanted.
I go for a walk, and, of course, this being a fable by Tolkien, I meet these people one by one, in their quests for happiness through extremism. He does a quiet, sly job of making every modern (and most ancient) reforms and religions and abstract philosophies deeply laughable in application.
The tale ends with my realizing that to be happy, I must simply keep my library's books in order, recommend them to readers who need them, and just generally do my job!
And to be happy, my neighbor the Baker must make good bread. And so on! That's all. That's all happiness ever was.
The catch? It's so hard to restrict oneself to that! Yet happiness in Tolkien's story comes from this and this alone--contributing to one's community in a reliable way. For deep happiness comes from self-respect. Not pleasure, not power, not freedom, not even love.
TWO WAKING NOTES
I have severe allergies--environmental illness, really. Today, I got my monthly allergy shots. I asked the nurse about further things I could do to cure myself. She seemed puzzled--"You're a bit tired, but not in pain, right?" I tried to explain that at this level of illness, I don't have enough energy to do much--I don't contribute to my community. Indeed, I have no community--can't tolerate much time with people. Being chronically ill erodes my self-respect. Even though I don't suffer much now, I can't be happy unless I'm well enough to give what I have.
I had just read a real Tolkien fable, "Smith of Wootton Major". Smith is not universally respected; he goes on odd journeys into magical lands. But he can respect himself, for he does his job well, between journeys. Tolkien makes no exception for dreamers: our contribution to the community is real, but must BE given to the community. As he shows in his afterlife-fable, "Leaf by Niggle," dreaming alone is not enough. It may keep you alive, it may teach you, but by itself it won't make you happy.
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