After reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” from cover to cover last Sunday, I discovered two undeniable truths about myself. One, spending eight hours lost within the pages of a good book is infinitely more satisfying to me than mindlessly wasting my time on the internet, and two, I am Bilbo Baggins.
Aside from certain physical characteristics such as a short stature and hairy toes, Tolkien’s protagonist and I have a few personality traits in common as well. First, both Bilbo and I are quite content to remain tucked cozily inside our respective homes, fattening ourselves up beside a warm fire, and not venturing out if we can avoid it. When I have no pressing matters to attend to outside of my house, it is not unusual for me to remain at home for several days on end without leaving. Sometimes as many as five or six.
This is not to say that folks like Bilbo and me are anti-social. On the contrary, we love to entertain company and visit with friends. However, be it a Hobbit-hole or a ranch-style house with a walkout, we appreciate the comforts of home.
Bilbo was a Baggins from Bag-End, but he was also a Took on his mother’s side. The Tooks, as you might recall, had a greater sense of adventure than Bilbo’s paternal relatives, and thank goodness for that. Were it not for the wanderlust that dwelled deep inside him, (and the not-so-gentle push given him by Gandalf,) Bilbo may never have experienced anything in his life worth remembering.
I, too, was blessed to have a mother with the free-spirit and thirst for adventure of a Took. A care-free California girl, Donna Keller joined the Marines after high school, hoping to become the first female helicopter pilot in the Corps. After being told women weren’t allowed to fly, she took the written test for the pilot training program anyway—and passed.
Mom never wore dresses. She cussed more than most men and smoked like a chimney. She drove cars like she stole them. She changed addresses and jobs almost as often as she rearranged her furniture. And she was utterly fearless.
My mother died in December 2008 at the age of 61, only fourteen years older than I am right now. I realized then that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and that I needed to start saying yes to new opportunities and adventures whenever they presented themselves—even if I am a frightened little Hobbit who’s a bit too fond of his burrow.
After Mom passed, I wrote and self-published a book and held a few public readings/signings. I started writing weekly newspaper columns. I gave speeches to the local historical society and the Friends of the Library. I became ordained and started performing wedding ceremonies. I started substitute teaching and announcing local football games. I was asked to help with the Girl Scouts, the Cub Scouts, the Optimist Club’s youth baseball program, the fifth grade sock-hop, the Learning Garden, and the primary school’s Family Reading Night. I even wrote and performed a stand-up comedy routine, sharing the stage with some extremely talented comedians who assured me afterward that I did surprisingly well—despite my nerves.
The Baggins in me instinctively felt like saying no to all of those opportunities. “I’m quite comfortable here at home minding my own business, thank you very much.” Of course, it was the Tookish Keller in me that said yes. My life is so much richer for the experiences I’ve had over the last ten years. Oh, how I wish my mom were here to see me now.
Wouldn’t you know, Gandalf came knocking on my door once again recently, wondering if I would be up for a new adventure. My dear friend Emily Gentry, a second grade teacher at the Southern Boone Primary School, is in need of a long-term substitute to teach her class while she is home taking care of her new baby. Although I covered a long-term subbing assignment last school year when art teacher Bree Lindsey was on maternity leave, I have never spent all day, every day with any one class for longer than a week.
By the time you read this, I will already have the first few days of this eight-week-long teaching assignment under my belt. It should prove to be a great adventure indeed. I have already subbed for this particular group of kids several times this year, and I am quite excited for the opportunity to spend the next two months with them.
Bilbo Baggins and I have one final thing in common. After we go “there and back again”, we write about our adventures. I can assure you that I will have no shortage of material to work with after this adventure ends.