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— Do you wish me a good morn­ing, or mean that it is a good morn­ing whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morn­ing; or that it is a morn­ing to be good on?

— All of them at once!

In this ex­change be­tween Bilbo Bag­gins and Gan­dalf the Grey in the first pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hob­bit” the pre­dictable, ba­nal rit­ual of morn­ing greet­ing is con­founded by the hair­split­ting of a wiz­ard who doesn’t seem to take him­self or Mr. Bag­gins se­ri­ously. It sets the tone for the re­main­der of the story, which de­spite har­row­ing ad­ven­ture amidst trolls, gob­lins, mu­tant arach­nids, and fi­nally a fire-breath­ing worm main­tains a frol­ick­ing, light, and op­ti­mistic tenor which res­onates with all the in­no­cence of child­hood fancy, warmly told in the com­fort­ing voice of a grand­fa­therly — and I imag­ine fat — narrator.

How­ever, my pur­pose here is not to give a glow­ing re­view of this now clas­sic chil­dren’s story or its more adult-ori­ented se­quel, al­though I would be happy to do so, but rather to draw a com­par­i­son be­tween my­self and both Mr. Bag­gins and the whim­si­cally an­a­lyt­i­cal wizard.

I am, on the one hand, a thor­oughly provin­cial and un­abashedly do­mes­ti­cated per­son with a love of sim­ple, homely com­forts. Most days, I would not ven­ture fur­ther than the next town over, pre­fer­ring the cozy, un­pre­ten­tious ameni­ties of my own home to the thrilling ad­ven­ture of more ex­otic climes and lo­cales. I en­joy cook­ing from my own pantry and eat­ing at my own table, walk­ing in my own neigh­bor­hood, and sit­ting on my own well-worn sofa. I pre­fer the books that line my shelves to the labyrinthine stacks of a pub­lic or uni­ver­sity li­brary; and the rays that shine in my front win­dow are more de­light­ful to me than any equa­to­r­ial sun­set seen from an is­land beachfront.

I sur­round my­self with the un­af­fected plea­sures of fam­ily and fa­mil­iar­ity, fa­vor­ing them to strangers and spon­tane­ity. For in­stance, there is not a sin­gle dish from any five-star restau­rant that could com­pete for my af­fec­tions with my wife’s home­made Bel­gian waf­fles slathered with but­ter and Penn­syl­va­nia maple syrup, a steam­ing crema-headed cup of espresso, and a glass of or­ange juice. There is sim­ply nowhere that I am more con­tent, more sat­is­fied, than with my wife and my chil­dren in our lit­tle apart­ment with our mod­est be­long­ings and un­re­mark­able rou­tines. It is the most un­ex­cep­tional and pre­dictable of lives, but it is mine and I am more than sim­ply sat­is­fied with it… I am it.

There­fore, I of­ten find it dif­fi­cult to re­spond to any ill-in­­tended over-com­­pli­­ca­­tion with any­thing but, “All of them at once,” an ad­mis­sion that I will not be tempted by sophistries that ob­fus­cate and con­vo­lute the sim­plic­ity of my life.

On the other hand, the wiz­ard’s re­sponse in­trigues me and is not un­like my typ­i­cal ap­proach to con­ver­sa­tion — dry wit, wry word­play, and gad­fly ban­ter — that makes light of every­thing and noth­ing, all at once and not at all. Just as of­ten as I might re­ply, “All of them at once.” I might also ape Gan­dalf when wished a good morn­ing, “Do you wish me a good morn­ing, or mean that it is a good morn­ing whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morn­ing; or that it is a morn­ing to be good on” The goal of which is not to de­mand an an­swer to such a lu­di­crous ques­tion, but merely to de­light and open the lis­ten­er’s mind to worlds be­yond his own.

There is joy to be found in un­thought thoughts and un­tried tri­als, in hith­erto un­con­sid­ered con­sid­er­a­tions. One may be at once con­tent with the usual con­veyances of life and yet find a sliver of ex­cite­ment in the un­usual. I keep al­ways abreast of world af­fairs, of big ideas, and great in­no­va­tions in sci­ence and cul­ture. Rarely do they im­pact the rit­u­als by which I live, but they al­ways broaden my per­cep­tions, in­crease my knowl­edge, and bare my prej­u­dices; that I might ful­fill Kipling’s wise in­junc­tion to “trust your­self when all men doubt you /​But make al­lowance for their doubt­ing too.”

Such for­ays into the un­known are a con­stant check against our my­opic ten­dency to mea­sure every­one with the same rule, our rule. To be con­tent with one’s lot does not en­tail a de­lib­er­ate ig­no­rance of every­thing out­side its bor­ders. Trust your­self, yes, but if you do, know that every­one else trusts them­selves too; know that at some point one of you, or both of you, or nei­ther of you is wrong; and make an al­lowance for doubt, for doubt is merely say­ing, “I might be wrong.” This is the real value of ex­plo­ration, the wis­dom of the worldly wizard.

I have taken many op­por­tu­ni­ties in my short life to travel to un­known des­ti­na­tions, to min­gle with di­verse peo­ple, and drink from the draught of well­springs deeper than that from which I daily draw. Prob­a­bly, I will con­tinue to do so in the fu­ture. It is not that these con­trast­ing char­ac­ters — home­body and ad­ven­turer — are ir­rec­on­cil­able; they must not be, for I am not liv­ing in a padded-cell, re­strained in a straight-jacket, and bat­tling the com­bat­ive voices in my head. We are all of us filled with con­tra­dic­tions, pur­poses that do not quite coöper­ate; and nonethe­less a good life is not one in which we must choose ei­ther – or, but is rather one in which we may choose both – and.

Such is the les­son that the wan­der­ing wiz­ard gives to the home­bound hob­bit, there is ad­ven­ture wait­ing just be­yond your door, you need only take that first step. How­ever, what we learn in the sto­ry’s fi­nal pages, re­al­iz­ing the mean­ing of the books sub­ti­tle “There and Back Again,” is that “Roads go ever ever on /​Un­der cloud and un­der star, /​Yet feet that wan­der­ing have gone /​Turn at last to home afar. /​Eyes that fire and sword have seen /​And hor­ror in the halls of stone /​Look at last on mead­ows green /​And trees and hills they long have known.”

Wher­ever I choose to wan­der, what­ever path I choose to take, what­ever ideas I choose to en­ter­tain, and what­ever good work I choose to do; I am just as con­tent with re­turn­ing home at day’s end and sit­ting in an arm­chair, my wife by my side, my chil­dren at my feet, a pip­ing-hot meal on the stove­top, and a fa­mil­iar book to read through again and again and again.

So once more, good morn­ing, my fel­low-trav­ellers, weary-way­­go­ers, and dull-do­mes­tics all! This jour­nal mid­dles be­tween the ex­tremes, trav­el­ing abroad to far-flung, dis­tant lands and re­turn­ing home to un­re­mark­able, com­mon places. Within its pages will be found cu­riosi­ties and mun­dan­i­ties, ideas both cos­mopoli­tan and provin­cial, re­flec­tions that plumb the depths and mus­ings which pad­dle in the shal­lows. Pre­dictable and un­pre­dictable, high and low, al­ways wax­ing, ever wan­ing; it pre­tends to noth­ing but em­braces every­thing. Let the re­mains of the day be a time to re­cline and revel in what­ever life has served us, be it a por­tion large or small or just right.

— Good morning!

— Do you wish me a good morn­ing, or mean that it is a good morn­ing whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morn­ing; or that it is a morn­ing to be good on?

— Well, of course, all of them at once.