"We will never know what contribution we make to history through our little journey unless we get on the road." - Tom Roddy
In recent decades the City of Atlanta has reached out to shake hands with the world, making a well-documented journey to its place as an International City.
Over those same decades, Tom Roddy has journeyed into the heart of Atlanta, where the loving touch of the poor, and especially the homeless, transformed him. Through the Atlanta Resource Foundation, which Tom presided over for more than thirty years, he helped connect people who have resources with those who were in need—sharing both monetary resources and personal involvement.
Wandering Home is the story of Tom's journey, and the challenge to each of us to begin our own journey.
Gandalf: You ought to go and you ought to go soon.
Frodo: What about the autumn, on or after my birthday? I think I could make some arrangements by then....
It's not easy to take to an unknown road. Like Frodo in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, I have a million excuses for not setting out. I am not ready. The timing is bad. It might be dangerous. There is no guide, no companion. It might not even be the right road.
When I was in high school, I worked during the summer for my father at a manufacturing and distributing plant in Knoxville, Tennessee. I apprenticed for almost every job, including sweeping and cleaning, loading and delivery, and machine repair. Dad liked to get on the road by 6:15 a.m. so he could open up for the early delivery drivers. I was a teenager running on a late-night biological clock, and virtually every morning, it took a Herculean effort to get up and get going.
As an adult, it's even harder to get on the road. There are bills to pay. Letters to write. People calling with their emergencies. Travel plans. What should I take? How can I lighten up? By the time I leave, there are so many things hanging from my body, it’s hard to move. Camera, cell phone with earpiece, pouch with ID and ticket, gadget watch that has ceased to gadget, glasses. When I get to security, I have to take it all off and then find everything again. Better to stay home, plop down with a good book, turn on the computer....
But there is the call of the road, the urgent invitation. The road as a metaphor for the spiritual journey is as old as Abraham and as current as the movie adaptations of Lord of the Rings. Gandalf's stern message to Frodo rings true:
And you must go, or at least set out, either North, South, East or West.
The journey may involve getting on a real road—moving our feet—or a metaphorical pilgrimage. But it always involves a journey of our soul. Yahweh says to Abraham, "Get thee out of thy father's house to a land which I will show thee." In Jewish literature, the happy person is the one who has found the right road, who doesn't walk in the way of the ungodly. Jesus calls his disciples to go on a journey. When he passes by Levi sitting, he says, "Follow me." Get on the road.
Here's what I tell myself when I am having trouble getting on the road:
The way will be shown. Which way? How will I know the road to take? We would never get on the road if we knew its true direction, its length, or its dangers. So it's good to have a short-range goal. For Frodo, Rivendell, the land of the elves, was a doable goal—although that road would be fraught with more adventure and peril than he expected. At Rivendell, the next road would be revealed.
Gandalf: But you cannot see very far; neither can I.
Frodo: But in the meantime what course am I to take?
Gandalf: Towards danger, but not too rashly, nor too straight...make for Rivendell. That journey should not prove too perilous, though the Road is less easy than it was, and it will grow worse as the year fails.
Frodo: Rivendell! Very good. I will go East and I will make for Rivendell.
There will be companions. I would go, but the road will be lonely. I have no one to go with me. Why leave the companionship of wife and children and the warmth of a crackling fire for the uncertainties of solitary travel on a foreign road?
Young Frodo resolved to go alone, but unexpectedly three of his hobbit friends joined him. As the road lengthened and the dangers increased, he was given another companion - a mysterious scout, a fierce warrior king in disguise, with thousands at his command.
The way will be hard. But that is life. Jesus tells us that the way to life is narrow and rocky. Muscles must be used and even stressed, or they will atrophy. The soul that is untested never develops endurance.
The trail is a loop. I'll never get back? Not necessarily. The best trails are loops, although only the adventurous plan a loop from the beginning. It is much easier and more certain to go back the way we came. Out and back. But eventually, if the journey is successful, there will be a loop, and we will get back home. While on their journey, Frodo and his friends sang:
Home is behind, the world ahead
And here are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead,
We'll wander back to home and bed.
"You can never go home again" is true if it means that home always changes. On our most important journeys, we come home changed, and we become agents of change. Frodo and his fellow travelers eventually come back to the Shire. But they left sneaking out at night, and they return riding on horses, decorated as grownup heroes and agents of the king.
There is reward. Fellow travelers are transformed by the road and become a trusted team. As they grow, they are able to help others. They are not just in history; they make history. The way of the poor in spirit, the meek, and the weak triumphs over the power of evil, and all middle earth blooms and flourishes again.
We will never know what contribution we make to history through our little journey unless we get on the road. It is fall. September is gone. October is flying by. Thanksgiving will soon be here. The leaves are falling. It is time to get on the road.