A friend asked me one morning: is homemaking archaic, or does it have value? I answered yes and yes–that we’ve made it archaic by losing both the home and the making, but it does have value. This is part three; you can read part one here, and part two here.
the strength of the stayer
…but Aragorn went forth again to danger and toil. And while the world darkened and fear fell on Middle-earth […] Arwen remained in Rivendell, and while Aragorn was abroad, from afar she watched over him in thought; and in hope she made for him a great and kingly standard, such as only one might display who claimed the lordship of the Númenóreans and the inheritance of Elendil.
The Tale of Aragron and Arwen
Then Aragorn said: ‘The hour is come at last. Now I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me. And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart for ever. For I am Elessar, Isildur’s heir of Gondor.’
And with that he bade Halbarad unfurl the great standard which he had brought; and behold! it was black, and if there was any device upon it, it was hidden in the darkness. Then there was silence…. The Company camped beside the Stone, but they slept little, because of the dread of the Shadows that hedged them round.
The Passing of the Grey Company, The Return of the King
When my friend asked her question and I began writing down thoughts for this blog-post-turned-series, it was the juxtaposition of Eowyn vs. Arwen in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that really spurred my thought process; that the former was considered brave and daring and the latter weak and passive because of–well, what, exactly? Their location? Their occupation? That one had a sword in her hand, and the other an embroidery needle and thread?
As I’ve written down my thoughts and tried to organize them, I’ve realized I’ve only come up with more questions than answers. I don’t understand the inclination in my own heart to revere the shieldmaiden and revile the waiting fiancée, nor do I comprehend my own reluctance to give weight and power to deeds that seem small and insignificant, though they have proved themselves time and time again to be anything but. It is a fragmented, splintered view of the whole, great picture of the world that I espouse. Why is it we truly believe the only brave thing is to go rather than to stay?
The Great Cooperative is not a zero-sum game. It is not that one party’s role is diminished by the other’s. One is not a winner and the other a loser. In a later battle in the novel, Eowyn will ride in disguise with the soldiers, and (in cooperation with Merry) kill the Witch-King. But Arwen does more, I believe, with her standard and her absence to spur Aragorn to the great deeds he must accomplish than she would have done with her presence. I love the image of the Grey Company crowded near Arwen’s banner as they face the most terrifying and potentially hopeless task they’ve ever undertaken. And anyone who’s stayed behind while a loved one faced danger or trial knows it’s hardly a simple or easy thing to do. The strength of the stayer is to delve deeply into those things she fears are useless or will never come to fruition, the things that move so slowly she can’t tell if they progress or regress; to plan for the future, to nurture it, unsure though she is what the future will hold; to create, to admonish, to guide, to lift, to exhort, to comfort, to influence, to train, all for Hope–nothing less than Hope.
a homelier version
My grandmother raised five children–four of them boys–on a farm situated on a plateau with cliffs on three sides. I remember my father once talking to a mother friend of mine about how he and his brothers would explore and climb among those cliffs while they were growing up.
“How did your mother manage to let you do that?” She gasped.
“I suppose she prayed a lot,” my father replied.
I am talking about situations that most of us have never faced, nor are we likely to–not in the form of armed men literally riding off on horseback while the women keep the fires burning in their absence. The reality of our Home, our Hope, looks much more like my grandmother’s prayers than Arwen’s standard-making. It’s desperately normal. It’s easily overlooked because it’s so ordinary. We pour into it without even thinking. We shape it even when we’re not wanting to. Sometimes we don’t even know what we’ve done with our Hope until we look back at the years we spent with it and can see the fruit–or the lack thereof. Perhaps it’s its familiarity that has made us detest it.
When I think of my grandmother, I remember her first in her kitchen; in my mind, she seems simply to be always in the kitchen. After pressing my memory a bit, I remember her other places, like at the piano or in a chair, doing word puzzles. I suppose some would consider that degrading, but for me, she was a rock. It was rare that she was not there, at home, preparing food with practiced skill, or playing hymns, or reading scripture, or praying. Her art, her work, the mark she left on the world is her five children, and their work and their children, and their work and their children. She embodies the truth that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich espoused when she stated that “well-behaved women seldom make history”, not because they are busy being doormats but because they are actually laying the foundations of society with their very hands and hearts, and when you are about that kind of work, you simply don’t have time for wresting the spotlight towards yourself.
only half of the equation
Both home and making I said were devalued; the contempt for the Home is only half of our coldness. I will not continue to flog this horse, but I have one more thought on the Home and its influence before looking at the making part of the equation.