Not all who wander are lost

This quote from J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favorites. One of the heroes of his epic stories is a man who has spent many long years in lonely exile, wandering the wilderness, and this line is from a poem about him. Aragorn is born a king but does not achieve that status until much later in life, and spends most of his life instead trying to save his own as well as protect the lives of others, whether they know it or not.

I use this quote because I’ve done a lot of mental wandering (and wondering) of late. I haven’t felt up to writing much as a result.

Unfortunately, difficult times continue. I learned earlier this week that a dear friend and mentor of more than thirty years passed away. It was a shock. The unrest from the shooting of an unarmed Black man by police in Kenosha, WI has also shaken me quite a lot. In particular, it has revealed what has been beneath the surface all along: systemic and violent suppression of Black people by white people, and the widespread, tacit support for white supremacists, vigilantism, assault weapons, and glorification of the current U.S. administration.

If it isn’t obvious, the party of the right’s platform boils down to: Pander to fear. Pander to fear. Pander to fear.

The party of the left is only marginally better. I don’t have many illusions about that.

This past week was the start of the Fall semester where I work. For me, it was little different than any other week in the sense that I continue to work remotely. But tensions were even higher than usual among coworkers for various reasons. Let’s hope that somehow, things will calm down a bit because it’s exhausting.

Something important that comes with the territory of being a manager or leader of people is spending a lot of time listening to, reassuring, and trying to address the valid concerns, fears, and anxieties of others. Never in my long career has this been more necessary and important as right now. A basic tool to help with such things is repeated, clear, and transparent communication. I try my best and still fail at times. But somehow the burden of managing or helping with other people’s anxieties, over and over again, in combination with one’s own, can be hard to bear at times.

One of the jokes in my family is that although I’m the youngest, I look the oldest. I’m not sure why that is the case, but it reminds me a little bit of Aragorn’s story. He was quite old by the time he became king, and long before that, Tolkien describes him as very weather beaten, careworn, and stern. Please know, I’m not comparing myself to Aragorn in some grandiose way. No. But I am drawn to his depiction in the Lord of the Rings stories. We often focus on all the good, heroic stuff he did, but it came only after a very long time of hardship, abuse, persecution, loneliness, misunderstandings, and danger, so there’s something to learn from that, I guess.

On a more positive, less gloomy note, I was able to help a former student get a job this week. There are few things that make me happier than to help in this way.

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