On Death & the Next Grand Adventure (Oh, and Bilbo Baggins)


I had an epiphany this morn. Like a choking on a slurp of my Ginger Red tea kind of epiphany.

I am Bilbo Baggins.

It all started with this

There was a study released recently that you are what you read. A scary proposition, eh, and I don’t know about you but I’m not particularly keen to become anything like Pap Finn, Iago, Sauron, Satan, Voldemort or Grendel. Plus, unlike Bilbo, I’m really not short. I don’t puff on a pipe (though I did once when I was fifteen and having a nicotine fit.) I do, however, shave the little wisps of hair on my big toes, but I most definitely don’t have hair in my ears. Yet.

I don’t know if I was Bilbo before I read The Hobbit or after. But, there’s really no question that I am Bilbo Baggins. Bear with me and I’ll explain.

But first there’s this…

My beloved Grandest Woman, Grandma Alta, is not going to be with us for much longer. She’s 98 years old and she recently had a bad bout with pneumonia, has been in and out of the hospital and is weaker than I’ve ever seen her. One day she’s sharp as a knife made of titanium alloy, other days she doesn’t have the energy to do much but sleep and sip on her chocolate Ensure through a straw. Not too long ago this amazing woman was out mowing her lawn and hanging her garments on the clothesline.  Not so very long ago her and I were taking daily walks over to the cemetery and hitting the ground with lightning speed as bullets whizzed over our heads during the various animal killing seasons rampant in our home town. A couple years ago if we walked in to her house she was up in a jiff, fussing in the kitchen, to feed our hungry bellies with slices of homemade lemon meringue pie. Now she’s been released to hospice and where we once used to eat Thanksgiving yumminess there lies a silver metal hospital bed.

My family is obviously devastated and our process reminds me of  the wild elephants of South Africa who just embarked on a twelve hour journey in order to arrive at the home of their beloved savior shortly after his death. These beautiful creatures hadn’t been to this man’s home for over a year and a half. Yet hours before his death they had begun their journey to say their goodbyes. Somehow they knew. It’s said that, “from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved human friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funereal’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at the deceased man’s home.” Yes, my family, some of which (myself included), are not unlike those wild elephants making our journey to say our own goodbyes.

I’m sad, of course, but I’m also ready for her to go.  A couple years ago she wore purple, munching on a piece of English Muffin toast and said to me, “I don’t know what I’m still doing here.” She’s tired. Hell, I”m tired and I’m only 41. When we’d walk the paths of the cemetery together she would say, “I know more people over here than I do in town.” ‘Course this may have been due to the fact that all those “fureners” (foreigners) were moving in.

We all have our process, our path. It’s my Grandma’s path right now; this moving toward the beyond. We can’t be selfish by holding on. Even if she weren’t sick and getting weaker by the day, she’s 98 years old. She’s nearing the end of her journey and she’s ready to put her feet up and reunite with my Grandpa. I can see them clearly; riding the horses through Oak Creek (she’d be on Cherry Pie) and finishing up the day at the sheep camp eating sourdough biscuits dripping with butter out of the cast-iron skillet, the fire cracklin’ up into the aspens.

Enter Bilbo Baggins

It’s really hard for us to let go and allow someone berth on their paths. Which brings us back to Bilbo Baggins.

Last week, on one of my Grandma’s more lucid days, she told my sister that I had gotten “all mixed up in that internet stuff” and that I’d moved away for a long time but was back now.

What she was referring to, lest you think I got mixed up in internet porn or internet clown bashing or something, was that I belonged to an online book club back in the early 2000s. I lived in Fairview, a few blocks from my Grandma at the time, and went on vacation to Cleveland for a reunion of my online book club friends. And… I fell in love. With Cleveland. Yup. I went back home, left my husband of ten years, packed up 30 boxes of books, a twin mattress, and a couple bookshelves, and moved to Ohio. I won’t get into all the details, that’s a post for another time, but I felt called to be in Cleveland like a mosquito is called to the light of the bug zapper. It was my path and it had never been more clear and bramble free than it was at that moment. It was to be a grand adventure.

But, like Bilbo’s family and friends, my own family and friends thought I was bat-shit crazy. Like crazier than Ruckly of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fame.  Who knows. Maybe I am. I have read the novel and as I mentioned earlier studies show you are what you read.

Bilbo himself loathed adventures before he embarked on his own, saying they are, “Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!… Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning!”

And, of course, there’s this

You have to be a little bit cracked to want to go on an adventure. Think about it. If you had the choice between a comfortable life where you have all the jammy muffins and frosted scones you could wish for, a warm home filled with creature comforts, a strong community–and sleeping outside on the rocky ground in the cold rain eating what sour berries you come across (and perhaps a mangy squirrel if you’re lucky), risking life, limb, and happiness to accomplish some goal you think is for the greater good, which would you choose?

But somehow, something ‘Tookish’ wakes in us, and we wish to see great mountains, hear pine trees and waterfalls, explore caves, and trade our walking sticks for swords. And more than that, we actually do it. Drawn into adventure–into risking it all–against our better judgment. So what drives us reluctant heroes to abandon elevensies in favor of hard tack? – Susan J. Morris 

So, yeah, I didn’t see great mountains in Cleveland but I went skydiving, I learned how to surf and snowboard, I traipsed to Europe with a backpack bigger than myself, I stood backstage next to Sully Erna of Godsmack and watched Metallica play in Germany, I danced with P Diddy in South Beach, I finally graduated from college summa cum laude, I stole backhoes and balloons, and I even flew a kite in a thunderstorm. My dragon? Drinking. And I slayed that mother-effer in the end.

And… now it’s time for my Granny’s next big adventure. I, for one, am going to be there waving my trunk wildly and wishing for her love on her path and in her process. And l  pray for her, “only little dragons, please.”

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