I went for a run the other day. It was a warm day. I was on a gravel backroad, one that hadn’t been plowed too thoroughly. The sun had transformed the remnants of snow into several inches of slush. Running on slush is like trying to use a treadmill that’s moving-not only backwards-but also out on each side: my feet flailed and my hands waved in numerous directions trying to keep balance. It was not my most eloquent moment; I must’ve looked something like a moose galloping while on crack.
With such a gait I constantly looked over my shoulder, worried not so much that a car coming from behind might plow me over, but more so that the driver might witness me in such a buffoonic state. If I heard a car coming, I’d slow down to a controlled and dignified stroll, tipping an imaginary hat to passer-byes and whistling a fine tune. This instead of appearing rabid.
I grew up quietly. I suppose that is an apt way of putting it. In that I think my childhood flew under the radar for any grand humiliation of my own ego. I was benched in high school football. I lost my bid for student body president. But these were just dents in the armor, so to speak. My pride was bruised, at worse. But I was always able to regain composure, adopt a facade of propriety, before the car came up behind me.
But if marriage is anything its the voice of reality calling ‘bullSHEET!’ on our facades of humility. It’s the car driving up on me slowly, quietly, so I don’t notice until its too late. And then the driver smirks as he goes by.
My wife and I are in a hectic season of life, working while also full-time students. We survive on ritual, keeping ourselves sane with our own nightly routine; it consists of a small cup of frozen yogurt and watching our favorite TV show (I’m not saying it’s Gilmore Girls, I’m just saying that if it was… then Lorelai is really starting to piss me off). It’s liturgies like this that fuels our life together, silly as they may seem.
But the other night we had a fight. It takes two to tango but sometimes one partner takes the lead. And on this particular night I had two left feet and was going out of my way to stomp them on my wife’s toes. We’d had a miscommunication, you see. And I’d responded with stubbornness, anger even, retreating to a corner of our apartment whence I muttered and fumed. It was as if I was smoking an emotional cigarette. Every breath added to the stench in the room.
My wife tried to make peace:
“Can we move on? I’m sorry. Please? I’ll get out the ice cream. You set up Gilmore Girls Band of Brothers.”
I acted like I didn’t hear. She said ‘peace?’ and my ego said ‘never surrender!’ I’d been caught off guard with my armor lying at my feet, but now I had it on I wasn’t about to withhold any blows.
When she tried for a third time, I swung my blade. I walked into the bathroom and started brushing my teeth. Such abrasion was like popping some Milk Duds in the face of a priest holding the Eucharist. No ice cream tonight; my armor’s staying on.
But there are moments of raw grace in life. These are not so much our pride breaking down as it is Grace entering the conversation, stepping between the knights, catching one sword in each hand, and- as if we were five- telling us to stop.
Then Grace looks at me: “Quit being an ass.”
Thus I recalled that day running in the slush. I imagined hearing a car coming behind me. As it passed the driver smirked at me, my pride flailing like an inflatable wavy hands character. But this time, I look back at the driver and say: “Screw you! I know I look like an oaf. But I’m trying.” He smirks again and drives on. But I feel lighter; he’s dragging my facade behind the car.
I finished rinsing and returned to our family room. She was curled up on the couch.
“I just want our night back,” she said.
I kissed her on the forehead then took dessert out of the freezer, remnants of toothpaste on my tongue.
And the ice cream-toothpaste mixture tasted how a moose on crack looks: bloody ridiculous. But sometimes repentance does. And there’s a lesson in that, I believe. Raw grace is hard to swallow; the final puff on an emotional cigaret leaves a morbid taste.
But she set her head on my shoulder. And her grace began to remove my armor. Slowly.
The night was ours. Again.
But for $@#!’s-sake, Lorelai…