Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The First Year

It began with a perfect wedding. We were surrounded by more love than we had ever felt. A perfect honeymoon, hiking in Montana, eating huckleberry pie, open communication, laughter.

Then we timidly began to make a home in Cherokee. We tried new recipes and carved pumpkins and played footsie and drank wine and lit candles. We discussed possibilities for our future, grad school and children and returning to Africa and the visiting the Grand Canyon.

We built a life together, a life that hasn’t always been perfect, but is real, is ours. We kept a container garden on the porch and a worm composter in the kitchen, and we learned that we would have to vacuum the fruit flies out of the worm composter daily to prevent infestation. We obsessed a little over Jack Bauer and Michael Scott and watched too much Netflix. We complained about our jobs, coffee breath, and the amount of space in the bed. We discovered that if we put dimes and nickels in the Coke machine and pressed “coin return,” it spit out quarters for laundry. John scrubbed a lot of mold out of the shower, because there is no ventilation in the bathroom. We ate burned cookies and expired chips when I worked at Subway, and a lot of farm veggies when I volunteered at the farm. We developed a two-person version of Settlers of Catan so we can play anytime we want. We spent one six-hour road trip re-telling from memory the stories of young adult novels Game of Thrones and Divergent.

It’s almost impossible to believe, the beauty we experienced in and around and beyond these little moments. We live on a riverbank and can build a fire and watch the flames flicker on the water, and when we get bored of the flames we can look up at the stars. We joined a relay team that ran 212 miles through the mountains in the spring. We hiked the Appalachian trail across the Smokies. We saw Over the Rhine and Bob Dylan in Asheville, some of our favorites. We went swimming and tubing and saw a million waterfalls and ate a million potlucks and went to a million weddings with wonderful friends and family. We won $4000 at the Casino one night (just kidding).

It has been good, and there is much to be thankful for. This is the first year.

Yet alongside the first retelling, there is another narrative weaving through it, a truth of heaviness and disappointment, which does not negate the beauty and the gifts but remains with it.

Many afternoons, I glued myself to the couch in pity, willing myself to get up and garden, run, write, or pray, wishing I had a friend here to call, wishing John wouldn’t be gone so much at the gym or watching football. Knowing that if he were home I’d stay on the couch anyway.

Many times we held on to the negative characterizations we made for each other. Un-thoughtful, unhealthy, domineering, untrusting. We wouldn’t let go of our caricatures; we intentionally lived in to them, even.

Many nights I lay in bed with tears in my eyes and a knot in my throat, refusing to let out the tears because then I’d have to explain, to be vulnerable, to dwell on unmet expectations and unfulfilled hopes. And as he lay inches from me, yet so far, still I desperately wanted him to know the depth of my loneliness.

Many opportunities were lost out of numbness. John was too tired or sick or rainy or injured to go hiking. I grew weary so that I didn’t want to look at the stars, that great expansive beautiful sky that had brought us together in the very beginning as we stared at it in a field in Africa, falling in love. That place seemed so far away.

When I told John one night I did not want to go outside and see the stars, I knew this year had changed me. In anger or defeat, I had closed myself off from the aching after beauty and after God.

After all this, there were attempts to fight back. I would go home or on a trip and return with revitalized friendships and renewed hopes for change. Only to find that as soon as I returned to a sink full of dishes and a TV blasting a show I didn’t want to be sucked into again, I would snap at John and rebuild my internal walls.

And the questions would return. Why. Why did you make me move here for a job you didn’t even like, a career you decided not to pursue. Why haven’t you been exactly what I want. Why can’t you anticipate my every need. Why are you so happy when I am so miserable.

In all this there has been relief, and dessert, and whispered conversations at night, and a tender touch to say I’m sorry. But there have been no real answers.

This, too, is the first year.

There is a third piece of this crazy puzzle. A perspective that says we are not the only people in this story, not the center of it, and not alone.

There is a ring, a promise, a grace and patience from beyond ourselves.

There are a hundred witnesses sending prayers and love our way.

There is time enough to take our disappointments and fears one by one.

There is the character and humility that this year has forged.

There is the possibility of starting new every morning.

There is a weekend away, alone, to talk it all through and set new goals and remember: that what drew us to each other is always there, buried in the brokenness but also above it, waiting to be noticed if we take the time to look for it.

There is the image of God in each of us, more subtle but deeper than the tears and fights, and that is not going anywhere no matter how long.

So as we begin another year, I promise again to never give up.

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