A couple of days ago, my wife and I celebrated fifteen years together. I remember in conversation with her when she said the word “fifteen,” and I suddenly looked over at her and said aloud, “Fifteen! I should get you something special.” And she looked back at me and said, “Why?” And I said, “Because it’s fifteen – it’s an important number.” And she said, “Why is it an important number?” And I started to say, “Because it’s a multiple of five,” but then stopped myself and thought that would be a very stupid thing to say because what’s so important about being a multiple of five versus being a multiple of seven or of four? She reminded me that we weren’t going to get each other anything and that we were just going to enjoy a hike together in Rocky Mountain National Park. We did, but I still bought her a dozen roses because she’s worth celebrating, and not only because I’m sentimental about the number five.
On the hike, we had a chance to talk together when we weren’t covering our faces with handkerchiefs as other hikers walked by. I prefer handkerchiefs to the medical-style face coverings because they make me feel, in a very child-like way, like a cowboy. But we mostly talked about our relationship and about books and about our mistakes and missteps and a little about the kids. It was a good hike, and a good conversation, and there was even some good thinking between the sentences – a phenomenon that happens best on a hike.
We came finally to the area just above the treeline, where large boulders had washed out, and over those boulders was a huge iceberg of snow. We had to traverse this iceberg to get up closer to a waterfall, and then from there, normally in the late summer months, you have to scramble and climb up some rocks to get to the top of the waterfall and see the glacial pond above.
Leslie and I hadn’t brought any snow gear with us. I was hiking in my running shoes which are lightweight and have good tread on the bottom, and Leslie was hiking in her hiking shoes, but neither of these had enough grip to break up the snow and provide good footing. At one point, we rested on a flat rock that jutted out from the snowy hill, and I went up ahead about fifty or sixty feet to test out the trail. I wasn’t as concerned with going up as I was with coming down. Toes could be driven into the snow, but it was much more difficult to drive in one’s heels. When I turned around, my feet started to slide, so I squatted down and sat on one foot with my other leg pointed straight out in front of me, and I tobogganed down on my foot back to where my wife sat on a rock. We both agreed that it was unsafe to go on, so we took one final look at the view from our rock, and headed back down.
On the way down, my one overwhelming revelation is that after 15 years, we still haven’t reached our destination together – just like we didn’t reach it on our hike – but that I still just enjoy being with her. The truth is, she makes me a better man. Or, maybe the better way to put it is that she calls out of me the parts of my manhood I’d rather not take the trouble to worry about otherwise. Even now, I struggle to find some way to explain this in words. There are a lot of examples I don’t want to share because they’re private and have to do with the soul, and I know I can’t explain those in words the right way.
Here are some examples, though, that I can share: She has taught me to appreciate being outside and taking care of plants through gardening. She has taught me to overcome my great fear of stinging insects by inviting me to enjoy beekeeping with her. She is teaching me the most important lesson of my ever-developing manhood: to stay present and engaged with what is going on around me. But finally, she is teaching me that she is not the Teacher. She is not the reason and impetus behind my manhood at all. I write “she has taught,” “she is teaching,” but what I mean rather is that God is using her to teach me. I simply would not have learned these lessons, and others in my soul, if I hadn’t married Leslie. And I hope in ways I may not be certain about now, that God is using me to teach her as well.
We came back down the mountain and ate our favorite dinner together, and played a board game several times and just enjoyed each other’s company. It reminded me of a poem by Jane Kenyon. Here’s the ending to the poem:
“…At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
we ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.”
For the past fifteen years, though at times in weaker moments I might have wished it in frustration or taken it for granted when things were going well, I can honestly say I’m very, very glad it hasn’t been otherwise.