One of my favorite story arcs in the quintessential fantasy series The Lord of the Rings is that of Strider, a Ranger who appears to guide Frodo through the wilderness on his quest to destroy the evil Ring of Power.
When Frodo first meets Strider, he sees only a muddy, mysterious, frightening man who carries a broken sword for reasons unknown. Frodo later learns that the broken pieces are the remnants of a legendary sword that was shattered when man first fought the evil Sauron. The sword is of great value even in its shattered state.
(If you’re trying to remember this scene from the movies, rest easy. This die-hard nerd is describing Frodo and Strider’s first meeting from the book. Big. Nerd.)
Strider carries the broken sword knowing that it is his destiny to one day see it reforged, and resume his rightful place as Aragorn, King of Gondor.
What we see, and what is true
Aragorn’s arc takes him from rough, nameless Ranger to wise, dedicated leader. He embodies the poem written for him, and paralleled by the reforging of his heirloom sword:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Both Aragorn and the sword are first presented as broken, damaged, and their value hidden beneath the surface. Over time, he comes to accept that even with his human imperfections, it is time for him to step into his role as King. The sword is reforged and takes on a new life. Its breaking is not erased, but becomes part of its legacy of triumph.
Feeling broken is not the whole story
When we have been wounded by life, the lingering effects of our wounds can leave us feeling scarred, broken, and forever damaged. We may only see the scars left behind, and doubt the possibility of any healing or growth. But pay attention to the lines of the poem, because they are profound.
Not all those who wander are lost. Deep roots are not touched by frost. From the ashes, a fire shall be woken. Renewed shall be blade that was broken.
Aragorn was not defined by his years spent wandering as a Ranger. You are not defined by your wounds. Feeling broken does not mean that you have been broken, and feeling broken does not mean you can never heal. Even when the hurts are very deep, there is hope for healing and regrowth. Look at any forest after a fire, and you will see it for yourself.
Shattered can become whole
When you’ve been through hell and back, it is natural and understandable to believe you will be forever marked by your experiences. And perhaps, also truthful. But being marked by your experiences is not the same as being broken because of them.
If you are carrying broken pieces, cherish them as the seed of new growth to come. They are not your fate.
They are part of your story.