There are plenty of moments in books and movies that make me cry. For some weird reason, last night I got choked up over when all the roommates were rejoicing over Schmidt’s proposal to Cece in New Girl.
But getting emotional during that stupid sitcom made realize something - it’s not (usually) the love stories that make me cry - it's the friendship ones.
From Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to Band of Brothers and, apparently, to New Girl - it is the scenes of sacrificial friendship that make me misty, and when I think about scenes that make me emotional, there are two that always come to mind.
I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you
First, there is the famous line in both the book and film version of The Return of the King (part three of the Lord of the Rings). Frodo, exhausted beyond all belief, simply cannot make it one more step up the mountain to destroy the ring and save the world. He’s been on the road almost a year, and that one last steep climb seems to be too much for him.
Sam Gamgee, his chubby, bumbling, salt-of-the-earth buddy, shows the kind of unwavering loyalty and untouchable resolve that makes him such a compelling character. The Ring is too much for him - too much for anyone, really, because it corrupts and tempts from the moment it is put around your neck. “Come, Mr. Frodo! I can’t carry it for you,” he shouts over the volcano sounds in the background, “But I can carry you!” And even though he’s just as exhausted (probably more, since he has insisted on carrying the bulk of the supplies in the heaviest backpack from day one - not to mention his precious cooking pots and pans) he tosses Frodo on his shoulders and starts trudging his way barefoot up that excruciating mountainside.
Faithful to the end. That’s just who Samwise is, and he can’t be anything else. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it.
I'm not worried. I'm with you.
The second scene I think of is towards the end of the sixth book of the Harry Potter series, and I have no idea why this quote didn’t make it into the movies (just another way in which I think these movies in particular are really a poor adaptation of the books). Dumbledore - wise, compassionate, humble, and the most powerful wizard ever to live - has decided that he is the one to bear the brunt of one of the most difficult challenges they have to face in the journey to save the world and destroy Voldemort.
After a long quest that required great intelligence and commitment, he and Harry make it to a small island of rock in a cave deep underground, where one of Voldemort’s life-preserving amulets (“Horcruxes”) is sitting in a pool of liquid. But the only way to reach it is to drink the poison. Dumbledore not only volunteers, but commands Harry to let him be the one to do it.
It’s ridiculous. They know there will be traps, and the man for the job to beat those traps is clearly Dumbledore. Harry’s a 16 year old kid - and even if he’s talented, this is no school exam. Plus, Dumbledore was the mastermind who spent years and years of his life just tracking down the clues to get them this far! Harry’s just along for the ride - Dumbledore basically said so only a few pages earlier.
But he had made Harry promise to do whatever he ordered, without question. And as Dumbledore gulps down mouthful after mouthful of the poison, he becomes more and more insane. Sweating profusely, weeping, completely delusional, tormented by scenes from his past as he shouts out about his dying sister. It’s painful to read. Finally, he finishes it, and Harry takes the amulet and begins the fight against zombie-corpses to get them out of the cave.
Dumbledore, no longer delusional but physically exhausted, is totally dependent on Harry just to help carry him out. Harry is doing his best to reassure him they’re going to make it, and Dumbledore says what I think honestly is one of the most surprising lines in the whole series, “I’m not worried, Harry. I’m with you.” Wow. I’ve got all the feels now.
Here, for the first time, we have the clearest declaration of Dumbledore’s deep love for Harry, something he has kept hidden in an attempt to protect Harry from becoming more of a target than he already is. It also has an element of irony, because in the first pages of this same book, Dumbledore told Harry in another dangerous situation that he had no reason to fear any attack. “Why?” Harry asked. And Dumbledore told him, “Because you’re with me.”
Magic deeper than rings or wands
My guess is that if you’re not familiar with the stories, the profoundly emotional nature of these quotes will be completely lost on you. It’s impossible to sum up hundreds of pages worth of character development and foster an emotional connection to the characters in two paragraph summaries.
But I was thinking about what it is about these kinds of stories that makes them so profound, so tear-jerking, so … dare I say it, spiritual. The beauty of sacrificial love somehow seems to be built into the fabric of the universe. True, maybe we could attribute it to survival instincts - both Dumbledore and Sam knew that if they didn’t act, the world would crumble to ashes.
But survival and preservation of the human race doesn’t seem to factor so much into their words as much as friendship does. And I mean real friendship. Not Facebook friends or casual buddies. This is real, true friendship at its core. It’s the deepest kind of love - yet there are no family ties or romantic interest. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those)
And it makes me marvel at the fact that this kind of undying, committed, sacrificial love is truly a universal phenomenon - what CS Lewis called the “deep magic from before the dawn of time.” It's a magic far more powerful than the One Ring or the Elder Wand. And it makes sense, because this is exactly the kind of love we see in Jesus. On the same fateful night he was betrayed by a very bad friend, he said, “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And I no longer call you servants. Now, I call you friends.”
And maybe, just like those other stories, the same profoundly emotional nature of this quote can get lost on us without hundreds of pages of character development and emotional investment in the characters. Fortunately for us, we have exactly that in one book (well, 66 books in one). And unlike Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, this story is still being written, and we get to be characters in it.