Lovely article by Economics Professor Greg Phelan.

“Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”

That’s the question Sam Gamgee asks an exhausted, starving, and despondent Frodo Baggins as they struggle to march through Mordor. Frodo has lost hope that he’ll reach the end of his journey. But rather than saying, “Muster up your strength! We have essential, important work to do,” Sam simply asks: “Do you remember the Shire?”

Do you remember the butter and bread, the flowers in the orchards, the songs and the rain, the laughter around tall pints of brown ale? While the important mission in the world is destroying the Ring—defeating Lord Sauron and all evil—Sam reflects on strawberries and cream.

Why? Because their way of life in the Shire was worth saving. Oh, you can live without beer and bread and strawberries. Sam and Frodo made it through Mordor without them. Those things are far from essential.

And yet.

Those nonessential things are worth preserving, worth protecting, worth marching into Mordor for. Sam finds courage because of the frivolous joys of the Shire, not despite them. They are not essential, but they are significant.

On a visit to the American Museum of Natural History one day, my wife noted the deep-sea creatures that live in darkness miles below the water’s surface. We humans never see them, and we barely know anything about them—God must have made them just for himself out of sheer delight. In wonder at the numerous creatures God made for seemingly no other purpose than his own pleasure, my wife was struck by this thought: And of all that God created, people are his treasured possession.

Recently, as my daughter toddled around our backyard laughing in the sun, I was overwhelmed anew by the knowledge that life is beautiful. A baby’s giggles, like strawberries and cream and orchards blooming in the Shire, are worth living and dying for.

Significant and good, they inspire us to live for what is most important, most essential. I find strength and courage to sacrifice for my children, to attempt the hard work of laying down my life for my wife, and to labor for peace and prosperity in our world because the splendor of God’s beauty breaks through in my children’s playful smiles.

Even after the pandemic passes and our economy shifts back into gear, we’ll still be in Mordor. May we always ache for something more. And while we wait, may we find in the laughter of children, the beauty of sea creatures, and the taste of strawberries not only a promise of what is to come, but also the motivation to keep going.

Your work may be nonessential. But it is absolutely significant.

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