Sam: “Do you remember the Shire Mr. Frodo? It’ll be Spring soon. The orchards will be in blossom…And eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
Frodo: “Oh Sam, I can’t recall the taste of food. Nor the sound of water or the touch of grass…”
Sam: “Then let us be rid of it, once and for all. Come on Mr. Frodo! I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”
Frodo and Sam’s conversation from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Return of the King” in the Lord of the Rings series is iconic. Frodo, deep within Mordor on the slope of Mt. Doom with Sam, seems to have reached his physical and psychological limits. Frodo’s mission is to destroy the one ring of power, fighting to resist the ring’s ability to overcome him. On the slope, he collapses out of exhaustion and on the verge of madness.
Frodo’s journey would have ended here if he was alone, that is taking into account whether or not he made it out of the shire. But, in that moment, that moment where Frodo is so close, yet so far from fulfilling his mission, he needs the gift of genuine friendship. Sam recognizes the anguish of his friend, and initially tries to encourage him through memories of home and thoughts of better memories than where they are.
Frodo’s response indicating his inability to even recall the taste of food, shifts Sam’s approach. Understanding, the state of despair in his friend and the gravity of “Frodo’s success” for the rest of Middle Earth, Sam, in an act of selflessness, literally, “puts the team on his back” for the sake of completing the mission. As Sam exclaims, “but I can carry you,” the heart cannot help but recognize that their friendship is remarkable and inspiring. This friendship is beautiful, and in a sense, we may even consider to be ideal. But, what are the characteristics that allow this friendship to develop?
First, there is an underlying connection between Sam and Frodo. They were both from the same region (the Shire), and within that region the same village.
Second, this underlying connection develops because of devotion to one’s friends. This devotion, as we see in Sam, cares not for the limitations and obstacles set before him. The challenges that Frodo and Sam must endure call for a demonstration of piety through the Christian concept of love. This piety develops through their shared interest and common goal over time. Namely: journeying to destroy the ring of power.
Third, this friendship is not only grounded in shared interests and responsibilities, but also, good company: The Fellowship of the Ring. This indicates the importance of our associations, and with whom we choose to surround ourselves. The friendship between Frodo and Sam begins through an underlying connection. However, it develops through the active choice to join The Fellowship of the Ring. There was a crucial moment in Rivendell when they both chose to join the mission. Frodo and Sam realize that their homes in the Shire are not safe just because they are far from Mordor, they see that the enemy will soon be knocking at their doors if they do not take up the call to action and join the fellowship.
Comparing this ideal to Friendship and Company in college:
As the spring semester kicks off, as students we tend to engage in a bit of reflection about the previous semester. We ask questions like: did I spend enough time studying? Did I go out too much or should I go out more? Perhaps, the more important reflective question centers around our friend group last semester. Who do we spend our immediate time with?
Now, granted due to the segmentation of the “modern” university education, part of your friend group will likely be determined by your courses and major. Therefore, it is likely, though not assumed, that our best friends share a similar major. More importantly, like Frodo and Sam, we should share some underlying connection with our better friends. That underlying connection could be having gone to the same high school, going to the same church, or just sharing common interests.
Comparing these friendships to the ideal, we recognize that first, there are more than enough underlying connections among students and faculty here at SHU for friendship. If nothing else, the connection of being at Seton Hall itself is enough.
Second, do your friendships have a shared interest or common goal over time? On the surface, certainly yes. The common goal of graduation in is a unifying factor. But, after graduation, many of our “loose” social ties built here will dwindle precipitously.
Nonetheless, for now, we are united by a common goal, so third, do we actively join activities of interest with our “friend group?” Many of us have friends in “our crew,” which we hang out with outside of our classes. Then we have friends that we know from clubs we are interested in or our study groups.
There is a healthy amount of energy directed by administrators and faculty towards ensuring campus involvement. However, usually, we get involved in the things that interest us on our own. In general, we do not join clubs and organizations as a group. Why not get involved alongside your friends? If you and your friend both enjoy gaming, join the gaming club. If you and your friend love reading books and literature, join English club. Etc. There is an active amount of friendship and community coming out from the clubs and associations we are a part of, but not enough friends seeking shared experiences together. This lack of meaningful initiatives for association combining our “social” friends and our “interest” friends seems to foster a culture of isolation and loneliness.
Joining a club with a friend creates accountability and also allows for a more full immersion into your interests. I say from experience, as a weightlifting coach and athlete, that there are few motivating forces stronger for getting in better shape than a training partner. If you have ever tried it, you know it changes your whole approach to when you show up, how often you show up, and how hard you work out when you are there. It logically follows to ask: Why aren’t we joining clubs that we have shared interests with our friends to be our “training partners?”
Further, from a “counter-enlightenment” perspective, there are two tangible benefits to joining associations with your friends. First, it seems to directly contradict the hyper-individualism (Locke and Jefferson) that might have created the social norm of joining clubs based solely on “your interests.” Second, this immersion and accountability may allow you to also stave off the growing trend of “lazy humanism,” to coin a phrase. Using Fr. Giussani’s explanation of humanism from his Religious Awareness in Modern Man, he says the following:
“Humanism substituted the ideal of human success for the medieval ideal of sanctity: no longer do all things flow harmoniously together in God, but in the divus, the successful man who relies on his own strength. That is where man is to place his hope; he is to bank on his own energy.”
Yet, I do not think that humanism is the appropriate label for what seems to be pervasive in our generation. There is not so much a lack of interest in discovering community, genuine friendship, and goodness as much as there is a “draining force” that depletes our willingness to reach out and discover these truths. Therefore, upon lacking the “stamina” to seek out answers beyond ourselves, it seems many in our generation turn into themselves to become the sole judge of their actions.
While, I understand that some may turn into themselves out of spite towards that goodness, for most people I believe the turn in occurs more from a “sloth of the will.” In others words, “lazy humanism.”
As strong as many of your interests are on your own, be more open to inviting your “social” friends into your “interest” friends circle. Considering that the long-term viability and capacity for the development of beautiful friendship seems to be dependent upon the surrounding cultural milieu that the association is grounded within, it might also be possible that the likelihood of your friendship continuing after the “shared goal” of graduation will increase with doing so. Therefore, be proactive. Get involved with activities with your friends. I understand that many of you may already feel overwhelmed by your many commitments. So, do not add another thing to your plate unnecessarily. But, perhaps, there is a “silent” invitation calling you to try a new activity or develop an interest with a friend? In that event, this is an invitation to audaciously accept the invitation.
The ideal of friendship portrayed by Frodo and Sam is a daunting friendship to extol. Nonetheless, we can all take more steps to strengthen the friendships in our lives. Taking the initiative to build up those friendships requires small acts of courage. Over time, this inclination towards proactively strengthening your friendships will develop more resilient friendships. Then, perhaps, someday soon, you can be the friend who exclaims, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”