In my opinion, a scene cut from The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King is one of the greatest scenes in what is arguably the world’s greatest-ever film trilogy. The three-minute clip finds Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, Merry, and Eomer facing off with Sauron’s spokesperson in a pre-determinedly futile attempt to avoid another battle and get the Dark Lord to surrender and abandon his quest for domination.
The Mouth, blackened and diseased, greets Gandalf, declaring, “I have a token I was bidden to show thee.” He sadistically holds up the mithril vest which Frodo had begun wearing for protection after leaving Rivendell on his quest to destroy the Ring of Power.
As they gaze at the remarkably clean and beautiful piece of clothing, fear and disappointment creep into the faces of Aragorn and his friends. Frodo, their friend—the one on whom their hopes were riding, had certainly been captured and tortured, and probably killed.
Pippin and Merry, Frodo’s companions from the Shire, cry out in dismay and hopelessness.
Gandalf, visibly fighting his own despair, silences them.
“The Halfling was dear to thee, I see,” the Mouth taunts. “Know that he suffered greatly at the hands of his host. Who would have thought one so small could endure so much pain? And he did, Gandalf. He did.”
“The Mouth of Sauron” is one among several scenes that I re-watch every now and then on YouTube—along with scenes from the charge of the Rohirrim at Minas Tirith and the Battle for Helm’s Deep. I watch for inspiration—both for my own creative projects and for my personal life. While re-watching a few weeks ago, it struck me how this scene works as a metaphor for what we’ve contended with in 2020.
This year, the world was put through the wringer. And now at the end of it, it certainly feels as though it has lasted longer than your standard twelve months. Covid-19, whispers of which began before 2020 was rung in, bloomed into a full-grown global pandemic effectively shutting down or severely limiting travel, finance, education, entertainment, and the rhythms of regular work and play for weeks and months across swathes of the globe.
Societal outrage gripped the U.S. for several weeks followed by the long, interminable machinations of an election year. Not to mention wildfires, floods, and hurricanes, rumblings of war, and brutal violence around the globe.
Over 80 million individuals contracted the virus, overwhelming health workers and healthcare systems. Nearly two million deaths, directly attributed to the coronavirus, sent families, friends, and extended families into mourning. Not to mention the tens of millions waylaid by physical weakness and health issues they otherwise would not have had to deal with.
Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders strained the bonds of community, camaraderie, and family. It’s hard to find comfort in misery when you have no company with which to commiserate. Graduations, weddings, and holidays have come and gone, and for many they have been void of the familiar assembly of relatives and loved ones. Those that weren’t cancelled were strained by mask-wearing and social distancing protocols.
Church services and concerts, theater showings and eat-in restaurants were often impossible to attend. Shopping giants, movie studios, and artists are re-thinking how they maintain their bottom line in a world where their customers can’t get to them.
It is as if all year we have been hammered by an invisible hand. Fear and disappointment, dismay and hopelessness have crept in on all sides. What little hope we have for a return to normalacy wanes as a new normal seems to settle around us.
This year, we have wrestled with great adversity. Who knew that we could endure such pain?
To endure means to suffer patiently through something difficult; to carry on, to remain, to last.
For Aragorn and his friends gathered at the Black Gate, theirs was no celebratory assembly. Sure, Minas Tirith had been saved and they had the freedom to press the long-running war to the very seat of Sauron’s power. But so much had been lost already. And, before them, a great challenge remained.
For Frodo, there was no triumphant charge to victory at Mount Doom. Instead, the ring-bearer succumbed to the thing he had been trying to destroy and was nearly lost in a volcanic river.
But Aragorn and his friends endured. Frodo endured. They suffered tremendously, but they did not give up.
When confronted with the seeming reality of Frodo’s death and the failure of the mission begun by the Fellowship so long ago, Aragorn stubbornly refuses to let hopelessness take root in his heart.
He declares, “I do not believe it. I will not.“
Aragorn’s stubborn hope is the hope I claim for myself and for you at the end of the long and tiresome slog that 2020 has been.
You have endured.
Perhaps there was death in the weeks and months behind you. Perhaps sickness. Perhaps financial loss and the straining of relational ties that you never would have imagined. Perhaps behemoth difficulties that you’re at a loss to contend with.
But you have endured. You stand at the precipice of 2021.
I pray that you refuse to believe the Mouth of Sauron, true though his words may seem.
I pray that you stubbornly cling to unreasonable and ridiculous hope—hope in realities which seem impossible at the moment or in the foreseeable future. And I pray that you endure.
Like Aragorn’s army, we stand beset by death and tragedy and difficulty on every side. Perhaps, a day may come when our hearts fail us and we surrender to despair.
But it won’t be this day. This day, we will endure.