the passion of the hobbit

It’s a subject I waffle back and forth on – the idea that passion needs to rule your life. It seems obvious, of course, that you should have passion for your spouse, children… then maybe a bit less obvious but still reasonable to have the same passion for relatives, friends and interests.  Even less obvious would be the very abstract things like country, career, sports teams and so on.  If you’re passionate about something lower on the list like that – say, American Idol – reexamine your priorities.  I was passionate about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I recognize that it wasn’t a good direction for my passions.  I got a lot of entertainment out of it but my life is exactly 0.0% improved because of it.

But if you can’t focus on something, it’s a shortcoming. In my case, I don’t have a lot of passion for my work.  I view it as a mechanical activity that provides food, shelter, clothing and Netflix for the family.  I wouldn’t view this as ideal, although I realize at the same time that 99.99% of the human population wouldn’t view sitting in a quiet, air-conditioned cubicle for 8 hours a day for an income in the top 1% of the planet’s population as a hardship.  Many of the “seize your passion” bloggers do – they assume that everyone can seize their internet business bliss – nobody has to make the computer, only to live off of them.

But that’s fine – of course some can and some can’t. Whether any of us choose to do so is of course a choice; if you love taking care of horses and instead choose to pursue a career as an account receivable manager, you’ve made a choice.  Whether you can live with it or not is the problem – many can, and a few can’t.  I’d guess that the time when all of this questioning really came into play was when the social contract that said companies would handle retirement broke down.  If I worked for IBM for 25 years and knew they’d take care of me during those 25 years, and after, I’d be a lot more inclined to give up on the need for passion.  But nowadays, that’s not true; just recently a colleague of mine got laid off from a company he’d worked for over 20 years without even a thank you.  Your future is not secure.

I realized all of this tonight while reading to my son.  For about a week we’ve been reading a few pages of “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien every night.  I’ve explained the general story to him – a little hobbit goes with a bunch of dwarves to steal back their gold from a dragon – but I don’t have many illusions about how well a four-year-old can follow Tolkien’s esoteric prose.   It’s not exceptionally complicated, but it’s not Goodnight Moon.

But tonight when I asked him if he wanted to try something easier, he said no. I asked whether he understood most of it, and he said no.  I asked then if he wanted to stop, and he said no.  I asked why, if he couldn’t understand all of it, and he gave me an answer that should make things clear (to paraphrase):  I’m excited about it because you’re excited about it, Papa.  He liked listening to it because I liked reading it.  Something was in my voice that wasn’t there when I was reading Goodnight Moon or I’m A Truck.

Some of my fondest memories from childhood are of my father reading The Hobbit to me from the same book at a slightly older age. I remember being a little confused by the language and the complex plot, but loving the fact that my dad thought I was ready for something so amazing.  That passion translates easily, and makes reading something like The Hobbit far simpler than struggling through Goodnight Moon for the 100th time.  Sitting down at the desk in the corporate office for the 100th time is much like that; coming up with new ideas, starting new jobs or developing new ideas is much like picking up The Hobbit.

I don’t like to think that work – and through that, life – is bleak without purpose. It’s not; other things should put life in balance even if there isn’t purpose in one’s work.  But work and parenthood and friendship and one’s relationship with parents, community, school and whatever else are, in fact, intimately tied up with passion.  Without the passion to pursue something – church, charity, community, work, parenthood, etc. – life is going to be a little less exciting.  Excitement is its own reward.