Talking Tolkien

Last night I saw the movie Tolkien and I highly recommend it to everyone!  A wholesome movie about a great person and one of the top 5 influences in my life.  The movie documented the fundamental moments of Tolkien’s formation that was behind his masterpieces The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.  And as I relived his early life through early adulthood, I thought about how much Tolkien and his works were instrumental in my own growth.   Here are the six key moments when the works of Tolkien formed me and changed me.

  1. My First Book Purchase – The first books that I bought with my own money (you can read about how I earned that money here https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/01/14/a-penny-a-minute-a-lifetime-of-lessons/) was the box set of the Lord of the Rings.  I have posted a picture of the Two Towers to show you just how much value for the money I got! Two Towers book well used I remember buying them like it was yesterday at Quakerbridge mall and then using the remaining buck and change on the new entry at McDonald’s – a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and Fries (1973) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_Pounder .  I raced home put my name on the cover in case someone tried to take it and devoured the books like I did the Quarter Pounder.  I have now read those same books with pages falling out at least once a year.  The first time I read them all in a weekend.  For a ten-year boy in the 70’s, it was the equivalent of a new Harry Potter book (which my children equally devoured).  I remember cowering in the bed as I read about the Black Riders for the first time and adding Frodo and Sam to my evening prayers.
  2. Bonding with my best friend – My best friend in elementary through middle school was Paul.  He loved the Lord of the Rings as much or more than me and we talked about it endlessly.  He also introduced me to the Lord of the Rings allusions in Led Zeppelin songs such as Misty Mountain Hop and some Galadriel references in Stairway to Heaven.  He also had pictures from the Lord of the Rings calendars decorating his room where we worked on building rockets for Mr. Pickett’s rocketry club.  We parted ways in high school as our lives took different turns (The Road Goes Ever On!).  But I will never forget the joy I had in discussing the latest calendar and references to LOTR by Led Zeppelin!
  3. Love of Family – My Dad was a Steelworker, no-nonsense Blue-Collar man.  He did not care for Fantasy, elves and hobbits.  In contrast, I was like Frasier to my Dad’s Marty Crane.  All through 1978, I looked for every news item on the upcoming rendition of the Lord of the Rings from Ralph Bashki.  My dad got tickets for the opening day for the whole family, because he knew how much I loved it.   He also got me for Christmas the LP Soundtrack.  The movie was not good but my whole family sat through it as I tried to explain what was happening.  They sat through it and tried to cheer me up as I was disappointed.  Even though my brother David still ribs me by humming the March of the Orcs, I never felt more loved since my family showed their kindness and support for something I cared about.
  4. My Senior High School Thesis – I love to write and get just as much joy from writing as I do from reading LOTR.  I feel exhilaration after writing each one of my blogs and unlike most loved writing essays for school.  My senior thesis for High School was one of my favorites – Christ Imagery in the Lord of the Rings!  I am not sure if that is even a topic that is allowed in school’s today.  I learned so much from studying this subject.  Unlike Lewis who is clearly allegorical in the Narnia series, Tolkien is more subtle but nonetheless profound.  Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf all represent elements of Christ.  Frodo the clearest as he carries the heavy burden to Mount Doom.  Aragorn as a king in disguise that leads to a new Kingdom.  Gandalf perhaps the least subtle as he arises from the dead in white after battling the Balrog.  Tolkien did not like allegory, but he did understand those fundamental truths that our highest calling is to sacrifice.  I still remember the exhilaration of getting an A on the paper, but more so the feeling that the LOTR revealed a deeper truth!
  5. Falling for the Fellowship – I waited for 23 years for the next movie version for the Lord of Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring.  My wife and I had four kids waiting for its arrival!  My oldest daughter Kate was at the age where she could stay up late to catch the movie with me on the first day (BTW – she is an English teacher!).  It came out the day before I had to lead an Oral presentation for the biggest deal in my career.  Nevertheless, I got the only 2 last tickets available for the midnight showing on the first day.  In the last two seats behind a bar that partially obstructed my view, I and my daughter waited in anticipation.  I was literally praying that it would not be like the earlier movie.  I will not lie to you.  When the scene of the Shire and Gandalf came on the screen, I wept tears of joy.  Peter Jackson had captured the essence of the books that defined my life.  The decency of the Hobbits.  The goodness of Gandalf and the evil of the Dark Riders that used to make me shake in my bed so many years ago.  This will sound like the ultimate geek, but I count that first viewing of the Fellowship as one of the top 10 moments in my life.  (BTW It inspired me to win the most important job of my career the next day!).
  6. Dancing in the Glade – I thought nothing would ever match the scene of the Shire but last night’s scene from the  Tolkien movie did it.  My favorite story from Tolkien is not LOTR but one chapter from the Silmarillion – Of “Beren and Luthien”.  I love it for three reasons.  1.  It examines the love between people of two different cultures (Elves and Man).  2.  Beren and Luthien fight against all odds to defeat evil. 3.  Last and most important, it shows the never-ending love between a man and his wife.  For the uninitiated, Beren and Luthien Tinuviel represent J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife Edith.  They were married for over 50 years.  Edith was Tolkien’s muse and the anchor to his life.  The image took my breath away as I sat next to my wife of 32+ years and thought of her in that glade.   In the movie, they show Edith dancing in the woods in England, the image that Tolkien explains in his poem below. 

“The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinuviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.” (Read more here – https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/luthien).

Grave of JRR Tolkien
True Love Never Fails

Six events that shaped a life!  Thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien and the makers of this film, for making this film that explains the life of this man who shaped me and so many others!

Every Journey to Health Starts with the First Step!

Today I was starting my normal Saturday practice that I initiated about two years ago.  Each Saturday, I get up about 5 AM and go to Life Time Fitness in North Austin followed by a Weight Watchers meeting in Round Rock (read more about this practice here The Saturday Texas Two Step!).   Normally I half groggily climb the steps to the gym in a daze.  But today I noticed something different.  On each step there was one word which when put together made this sentence: Every Journey Starts with the First Step!

Those words brought back to mind my first tentative steps in beginning my weight loss journey.  3 years later, I am 170 lbs. lighter and a whole lot happier and healthier.  But when I first started out I felt a little like Bilbo at the start of The Lord of the Rings when he left the Shire and hummed:

“The Road goes ever on and on,

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way,

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.”  J.R.R Tolkien

Indeed, the first steps of any journey are exciting but a little scary.  Here are a few hints for you that are starting out on the Road to Health:

1. Get a good check-up before the Journey:  Most people before they take their car out on a long trip get the oil changed or a tune-up.  Before embarking on a weight loss journey, it is important to get a check up of your own.  For me this was my first step.  I, like most guys I know, hate to go to the Doctor.   And when they do, they do not follow up.  But in my case, I could not avoid it any longer.  My shoe size had increased from a size 11 to a 12 ½ in a little over three months.  I also was feeling tired.

What was shocking was when I first got my checkup, my blood work all came back great.  Hard to believe but at 350+ lbs.  my cholesterol and sugar levels were normal.  But I knew something was wrong and my Doctor provided me with referrals to specialists that correctly diagnosed what was wrong.  A few weeks, and a few appointments later, I had the medication and the CPAP machine that I needed.  These two items collectively helped to get my shoe size back down to an 11 and take off 20+ lbs. of water that was slogging around.   My advice to all new weight loss journeyers:  Before starting out, get a checkup and take action on recommendations.

2. Play “Body May I?”: When I was young kid, back before video games (or even videos), we used to play the game “Mother May I?”  For those unfamiliar with the game, one person (it could be Mom) stands facing away from a line of kids.  Each child the takes turns asking, “Mother may I take . . . steps?”  And the child who is mother replies yes or no. The game ends when the first person makes it to Mother.

Now it was up to the person that played Mother to allow the step or not.  And there were different strategies to win.  One strategy was to go big first and ask for “Two Giant Steps”.  Often this strategy would fail because the Mother did not want the game to end and even if they granted you two giant steps at first, would decline the next few requests.  Another strategy was to ask for some crazy, wacky step that the Mother wanting to see it, would grant.  My favorite was the double twisty, flip flop step, which would be two cross over of my legs, followed by forward roll (my version of a flip/flop).  This may win the first game on a good day, but usually Mother would disallow it or never allow it again.

No, the strategy that usually worked were a series of baby step requests, followed by a medium step or two to win the game.  Mother would allow it because you were not being greedy.  I would ask for it like this “Mother May I take one little, bitty baby step please”.

Now what the heck does this have to do with Weight Loss.  Here is the metaphor.  When you are starting out, instead of Mother May I, you need to ask Body May I.  If you ask for two Giant Steps out of the gate before you are ready, you are likely to not be able to take any other steps due to injury.  Likewise, if you go on a fad diet or exercise routine (the equivalent of the double twisty, flip flop step), you may lose weight for awhile but in the next part of the journey it all comes rushing back.  No, when playing Body May I, you need to start off with Baby Steps and then progress to Medium Steps.  That is what I did.  I could not walk far because of my joints so I did low impact water aerobics.  I then progressed to the medium step which for me was the elliptical trainer.  By the end of the journey, I was doing 4 hours of Spinning non-stop or walking 50 miles in one day.  Remember start out with baby steps and then progress.

3. Pack the Right Provisions: Before you embark on any journey, it is necessary to pack the right provisions.  This is doubly true when trekking to your weight loss goal.  The first thing that I did after learning about healthy foods from Weight Watchers is clean out my pantry of Peanut M&M’s and Cheeto’s and replaced it with fruit and other healthy snacks.  These nutritious, yet energy packed foods, helped me grow stronger along the way.

4.  Bring a Buddy: A trip is always better if you take it with others.  Continuing on with the Lord of the Rings theme from earlier, Frodo did not face the Black Riders by himself.  No he brought Sam, Merry and Pippin!  When I started out, I had several groups that traveled with me along the way.  These groups include Weight Watchers Saturday Morning group, my Sister in Law Sherri’s fitness group, and my company group Accenture Active.  

In closing, you can’t complete the journey until you take the first step.  So like another old 80’s Christmas Show, “Just Put One Foot In Front Of The Other, And Soon You’ll be Walking Out the Door!”

one foot 2

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor.
You put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door.

You never will get where you’re going
If ya never get up on your feet.
Come on, there’s a good tail wind blowin’
A fast walking man is hard to beat.

If you want to change your direction,
If your time of life is at hand,
Well, don’t be the rule, be the exception
A good way to start is to stand.   Rankin/Bass