He has awakened many times to changed circumstances. He was three when he awoke from a nap to hear his mother’s tears of fury, frustration, and shame due to the stories she’d just become aware of asserting that Primula Brandybuck Baggins had been unfaithful and that her son was not only illegitimate but in reality the child of Bilbo Baggins rather than that of her husband Drogo. Before nightfall he and his parents had rented a trap from the Green Dragon and were driving eastward to Buckland and Brandy Hall and the comforting, protective presence of Master Rorimac and Mistress Menegilda.
When he was eight he was awakened in the night to find that their beautiful smial by the Brandywine River had flooded a second time since they’d moved there from Hobbiton, and this time they would have to move again.
He wasn’t quite twelve the morning he awoke in those rooms his family inhabited when visiting in the Hall to learn that his parents hadn’t returned from their starlit cruise on the Brandywine; the knowledge they would never again return to his comfort came all too soon afterwards.
The first time he awoke in Bag End and knew that this was not a dream but reality, and he was now Bilbo’s ward and would be free to explore and do almost anything he might wish he’d almost wept with joy and relief. As much as he’d loved Sara and Esme and Merry, the realization that he was being held back from doing almost anything worth doing for some reason he couldn’t fathom had been more than he could bear any more.
The morning he awoke to the fact Bilbo was gone and he was now Master of Bag End, he’d felt lost until he put back on the trousers he’d worn the night before, and in doing so first felt that reassurance he wasn’t truly alone and would never be so from then on. He found that awareness both comforting and disconcerting, something to be relieved at as well as distrustful toward. He’d promised Gandalf he’d not wear the funny ring Bilbo had left him, and that he’d keep it both secret and safe; he’d grown steadily more unwilling to let anyone else see It over the years, jealous anyone else might see or touch It’s perfection, and somehow increasingly more aware as time went on that others must not be touched by It
Then was the evening when he was dozing in his chair and was woken by a tap at the window, to find Gandalf had at last returned, further waking him to the knowledge of just what Ring It was that had remained in his pocket for the past sixteen and a half years. The horror and determination to protect his own that this knowledge itself woke was greater than he’d ever known.
Then had come that waking in Elrond’s house, waking from the nightmare of fading to wraithdom to the realization he was yet alive--and that he would know pain in his shoulder until he at last left Middle Earth. A small price, he felt, to know he had reached his goal and freed his own land of the danger It awakened posed. But that was followed by a far grimmer awakening as he, a mere Hobbit, realized he must go further than anyone ought to have gone, and that it was very likely he would soon die to free not just the Shire but the whole of Middle Earth from even worse evil than he’d foreseen so far.
In Lorien he’d awakened both to grief and then to the unexpected awareness that he was recovering from that grief, after Gandalf fell with the Balrog. Then he’d looked into the Lady’s mirror and realized that what he carried was actively seeking to destroy those who accompanied him, and that It rejoiced at Gandalf’s fall.
That memory was followed by hints of other awakenings--on secret beaches, under cover of great stones and mats of brambles and branches waking to springtime, within the cavern of Henneth Annun, on the steps of Cirith Ungol.... The waking in the orc tower, to the despair of thinking all was lost with the Ring, to pain and torture and the agony of loss--loss of It, loss of hope, loss of Sam. Further brief coming to awareness in the waking nightmare of crossing Mordor under the weight of It and Its burning against his breast before falling back into the darkness as his strength drained away.
Then came the waking to the knowledge that at the last he was no longer proof against Its will as It took him in the Sammath Naur and he and It claimed one another, there in that place of fire and darkness. What he’d expected to be his last awakening on the mountainside had brought him a level of peace he’d not known for years, as he’d sought to comfort Sam, surprised by what both had thought was Sam’s last wish to know how their story would be told. That he’d lose consciousness with the pain, shock, and grief lightened by the absurdity and dearness of that simple wondering had seemed such a blessing at the time. Only the awakening that had followed had not been what he’d expected, for he woke not beyond the bounds of Arda but still trapped in his body and interrupted life. He woke not to wholeness but to the awareness he could never be what he’d been, that he had lost too much--his innocence, his simplicity, his connection to his own people, his ability to accept without question. But there was life still to be lived, and he stubbornly set himself to living it as he could, until the day he took his leave of the older brother of his spirit and felt he was once again slipping back into dreams.
That had been followed by a different awakening, or perhaps merely a continuation of a sorts of the previous waking, as he did his best to see things set right in his homeland but realized that he could no longer connect with his own land, was no longer in rhythm with its seasons, and that he was fading even as he looked at himself.
So at last he considered the choice before him--between staying and fading, or going and perhaps awakening again. How could he allow Sam and the rest he knew and loved watch him die?
So now he stood on the deck of the grey ship, between Gandalf and the Lady, Elrond behind him, the Wizard’s hand on his shoulder, watching the rain curtain like silver glass roll back, and he took a deep breath, feeling himself awaken fully for the first time in years.