“A time may come soon when…there will be need of valor without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defense of our homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.” — J.R. Tolkien’s Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings
Valor is worthy of renown, and great deeds are worthy of remembrance. Yet sometimes both receive neither. At least among the rank and file of men.
In the context of this Tolkien quotation, men are going away to war. The Lady Eowyn wants to go too, yet she must stay behind. At home. If we look carefully, this situation brings into focus the inestimable value of life in the home, and the unique place of women there.
Surely, a key reason Eowyn recoils from staying behind is that often men do not honor and remember what women do in the home. It is very difficult to honor and remember such deeds when others do not—even the very beneficiaries of those deeds. How many women in the home exercise a great valor that goes unpraised?
Valiant death on the field of battle has a striking and thus memorable quality. It rightly elicits praise in monuments of stone, writing, and song. These and many other such public acts—acts more often done by men—are inherently visible to the community at large.
And then there is the day-to-day work in building up and defending the home. By definition these are ‘ordinary’ acts. The common use of the term ‘extraordinary’ to mean ‘great’ reveals something noteworthy about us humans. It is easy to miss the value of the ordinary. But in the end, is not life about the ordinary—or in other words the things that can and should be ordinary?
Few remember or even notice the ordinary deeds of life in the home.
What would it mean to say that life is about dying heroically? If dying heroically is to be valued—and it certainly is—this must be because ordinary life is so wonderful that it is worth dying for heroically. Otherwise, for what would a man of integrity ever go to war? Or, for what would a woman give herself over—in a kind of life-giving death—to the great labor of making a home from the inside every day?
Defending our homes is defending what should be ordinary. And such a defense is the ordinary duty of all of us. Especially today. For a time is now at hand when there is need of valor without renown, and few remember or even notice the ordinary deeds of life in the home. This falls heavily on women in the home.
The work of women in the home is especially representative of what a home is and should be. Properly understood as a community of rich daily human life, home is where the feminine genius most obviously—though certainly not exclusively—is exercised. Undervaluing the feminine and undervaluing home always go hand in hand.
Perhaps the key to the last defense of our homes is that men too must rediscover the home, and their place there, investing in it in their own way, with their time and energy, their mind and their heart. Every day. Then they and women will learn together to honor and remember what life is most about. Every day.
And if one day, men must go forth to war, and women must stay behind, they each will know better just why they are doing what they are doing. And the valiant deeds of men and women, abroad and at home, extraordinary and ordinary, might not be unpraised.
John A. Cuddeback, Ph.D. is professor of Philosophy at Christendom College. His writing and lectures focus on ethics, friendship, and household. His blog, Life Craft, is dedicated to the philosophy of household.
Editor’s Note: This article appeared first on the author’s blog with a slightly different title, and it has been reprinted here with permission. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.