The Gospel According to The Lord of the Rings: Week 39, Small Stones

Upon their reunion, Gandalf explains many things to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. But soon, Gandalf turns their attention back to the task at hand. The time for talk is over, now is the time for action.

And in making this transition, Gandalf makes a curious observation:

The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.

What has turned the tide? It's not what you think it is, Gandalf's momentous reappearance. It is, rather, something smaller. It's already happened in the story, and we, the readers, have missed it. Something happened, something seemingly random, and insignificant, but that was the moment when everything changed. 

What turned the tide was the arrival of Merry and Pippin to Fangorn and their meeting with Treebeard. That meeting, as we will come to see, changes the course of the war. As Gandalf continues:

"They were brought to Fangorn, and their coming was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche."

This past summer my family visited Gettysburg. I've been a student of that battle since High School when I read The Killer Angels. What struck me then and struck me again this summer is how the outcome of that battle pivoted on so many individual decision points. Each decision a small stone, but a decision so momentous that in retrospect you can rightly say, "The battle could have been won or lost right here." And this is the vitally important point: You say that all over the battlefield. Over and over again you stand at a crossroads of history, radically different futures unfolding before you, wondering what the world would have been like if this small decision, made right where you are standing, had gone differently.

But it's not just Gettysburg and battles. History is crammed full of these moments. Students of history know this. Small stones over and over again where you could rightly say, "If this didn't happen, the entire history of the world would have been different."

And then there's your own life. You go back through your memory and realize, "If I had made a different choice that day my life would have been totally different." So many small stones, over and over again.

We sometimes ask, "What can I, a single person, do to make a difference in the world?" Our power and influence seems weak to the point of uselessness and insignificance. But really, if you look at history and your life, the situation is quite the opposite. The history of the world and the course of your life turns on every choice. Everything matters. Everything is a small stone.

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