Tolkien writes of Niggle as a simple man who has a big imagination for painting. He loves to paint. He imagines a tree, and dreams of capturing its beauty in excruciating detail, with each leaf's movements, the bend in the branches, and the mountainous backdrop against that which the tree rests.
Now, I am no painter and my guess is many of you are not either. Nonetheless, I venture to say we are all like Niggle in the sense that we all have, although sometimes changing and not always virtuous, a goal for ourselves. Perhaps even a dream, if I dare say.
My Dream has changed over the years. I used to want to open a school for students with disabilities. Since getting a degree in Speech-Language Pathology, that dream has changed. To what? you may wonder, or, you might not. Well, it's a Dream that's still being dreamt, but so far I have dreamt of one day creating job opportunities for persons who have suffered traumatic brain injuries through opening a cafe...that also sells plants, of course. I would love to use it as a means of providing speech therapy that is functional in the truest sense of the word “functional.” This dream is one that would require many prerequisite steps towards it, which in its nature, would require that precious thing which we call time.
That is where Niggle’s dilemma lies. While he has this goal of creating a work of art, he also has a neighbor who seems to always be in need of help in some way. Throughout the story, Niggle is faced with multiple choices between working on his painting, or helping his neighbor in need. Again, I think many of us can relate to Niggle. Time is of the essence, and we must choose. Niggle, without exception and without hesitation, always chose his neighbor over his painting, despite a painful awareness that his time was running out...as it always does.
I am like Niggle to the extent that I have a dream, neighbors in need, and a sense of time’s finite nature. I am unlike Niggle in that I have not always chosen my neighbor. Now this begs the question, was Niggle making the right choice in sacrificing for his neighbor, who certainly never gave anything in return, especially gratitude, or am I right in choosing to do what was best for me and my dream? Well...I think this is where we may all have different opinions, to each their own. I respect that.
As for me, I think I might like to be more like Niggle. He is rather counter cultural. Culture today would likely tell him that he will not go anywhere in life if he doesn’t focus on his own goals, but that does assume that we are all in utter control of our future, which I don’t know if I necessarily believe or want.
This post was inspired by the story of Niggle in combination with a choice I had to make earlier this week. I had a friend who lived 40 minutes away, who had started a house project for her parents, hoping to surprise them when they returned from vacation.The project was much more work than anticipated, and she was utterly overwhelmed and mid-meltdown when she was texting me. In response, I had this rather inconvenient thought that I should go over to her place and spend the day helping her with the project. For context, this text happened just as I was really gaining momentum in the creation of this blog. I didn’t want to stop, I wanted to keep working towards my goal. Something in me though, which I am grateful for, told me to stop and go help my neighbor in need. The blog could wait. After all, wasn’t I creating this blog to encourage people? How could I do that, if I wasn’t willing to take a day to encourage my friend in a tangible way.
Time seems to be a precious commodity these days. Yet, if I did not make it, can I claim it as mine? I wonder if whoever created time would like for those who are subject to time, to use their time for one another and not themselves. How did I formulate that hypothesis? I suppose it's somewhat anecdotal. Based on experience, the world is just a better place and ironically, I’m a better person when I’m not so focused on me.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all about dreaming and you bet I worked on my blog after getting home from helping my friend. And don't be mistaken, I am all about self-care. The challenge is when I have taken care of my basic needs, and I am dreaming of more, what do I do when I'm met with a neighbor's needs? How will I decide what is most important? What do my priorities reveal about my heart?
Thank you J.R.R. Tolkien, and thank you Niggle, for the lesson in prioritizing people over projects.