I have the same reaction every time I read through The Lord of the Rings. Without fail, I wonder what Sam feels as he’s walking home from the Grey Havens. I wonder what Frodo is thinking as he sails away from Middle Earth forever.
I wonder what it’s like to go on an epic journey and then just live.
The thing is, I don’t have to wonder. And neither do you. In some fashion, we’ve all probably had an experience like that. No, I’ve never carried a Ring of Power to Mount Doom. (If you have, I want to meet you!) But I have been on an epic journey or two.
I went to a small private school in Indiana. For boys, our school had soccer and basketball. My sophomore year, our soccer team was a juggernaut.
I still remember traveling to Hammond, Indiana, to play one of our biggest rivals. I’ll never forget the feeling of that hour and a half bus ride home, knowing we had just beaten them on their homecoming night.
Then came the state tournament.
I was a starting defender, but I was really one of the lesser players on the team. Our goalie, Tyler, was our star. He had carried us all year along with a couple stud forwards.
We made it to the state title. I’ll never forget the feeling. It was some combination of nervous and excited. The match was close throughout, and I don’t really remember much until the very end.
It went to penalty kicks.
We wouldn’t have had it any other way. We all knew Tyler was up to the challenge. Boy was he! He stopped FOUR of the other team’s shots. I can still remember what it felt like when we all rushed the field after the last one.
And then the next day came.
Watching No. 18
Yesterday, Peyton Manning retired after an 18-year career in the NFL. Around the same time I was playing soccer at Community Baptist, I was also busy being the biggest Peyton Manning fan around.
I skipped school to see him speak in my hometown. I had his football cards, a Peyton Manning bobblehead and a poster hanging in my bedroom. The door to my room was covered in newspaper clippings sent to me by my Uncle Seth depicting highlights of Peyton’s career with the Indianapolis Colts.
I watched in agony early in Peyton’s career when every year brought regular season success but disappointment in the playoffs. I still remember his first playoff victory against the Broncos. I really, truly felt happy for him.
That particular run ended with a loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. I was so distraught that I just went outside and laid down in the snow. A man passing by in his truck actually stopped to make sure I was ok. I learned a lesson that day. Even when an epic journey doesn’t end the way you want it to…
…the next day still comes.
A few “next days” after that, the Colts were again in the AFC title game against the Patriots. Undoubtedly you’ve heard about the 2006 AFC Championship game by now. It was one of the most epic comebacks of all time. When Marlin Jackson intercepted Tom Brady, I thought our house was being shaken to its core because our whole family was jumping and screaming with excitement.
The Colts went on to win the Super Bowl and we went to the parade in Indianapolis. My dad, my brother and I were in the third row of the RCA Dome to watch the Colts players take the Lombardi Trophy around the field. It was the final culmination of another epic journey.
Then the next day came.
Peyton Manning’s career was epic. So many ups and downs. Amazing achievements and bitter disappointments. But now it’s over.
The next day has come.
So we watch the highlight videos and cherish all the memories. Hey, I get it, I was doing that yesterday, too. But what about today?
Isn’t the next day special too?
Maybe I’m just an optimist, but I’d like to think the next day has just as much value as the epic journey. Sure, the epic journey gets all the headlines. But the next day brings new challenges. New endeavors. All the lessons learned during the epic journey can now be applied to something brand new.
Look, I have no idea what Peyton Manning is going to do now. And, being the LOTR nerd I am, I have read the appendixes to The Return of the King. So I have a small idea of what happens to those characters after their epic journey.
But all I can really tell you about is what happened to me after my epic journey.
Enjoy the Journey
That state soccer championship came in 2008, my sophomore year of high school. The very next season, we won another state title. Another epic journey. But then? Yeah, you guessed it.
The next day came.
We all moved on from there. I went to college where I had another epic journey. I grew so much as a person. I learned new things, and I met new people.
In fact, I married one of them.
That story is its own epic journey — one that includes winning a trip to Super Bowl XLIX just four days after getting engaged.
My point is this — life doesn’t stop just because an epic journey has ended. That just means your next epic journey is about to begin. I’m only 23 years old. I have a lot of life left to live. That gives me joy and excitement.
So I encourage you to enjoy the journey you’re on RIGHT NOW. Sure, there are great memories in the past that are fun to cherish. I’ll certainly never forget watching Peyton Manning throw a touchdown to Marvin Harrison or reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time.
But those journeys come to an end. They all do. It’s just a fact of life. But you know what? That’s ok.
Because you never know what the next day will bring.