We were at a standoff-caught between the stress of a mounting to-do list and the desire to not respond with childish emotion.
“I know there’s not enough time to get it all done,” I said with calculated rhythm designed to meter the frustration that was seething just beneath the surface.
“That’s why we have to do it. We have to make this trip happen.”
The trip in question was an invitation from Southwest airlines to fly on their first ever international flight from Houston to Costa Rica. The theme of the trip was using travel to connect people. The irony of the theming and timing of the trip was uncanny.
The invitation to take five days away from our normal life and reconnect came at a moment when we lacking in both normalcy and any spare time. Just a week before Gary had started a long-term work contract in another state. Six weeks before that, I started grad school. To say that we were stretched thin and separated by our current circumstances would be an understatement.
The separation was not just emotional. Our current normal put us in a place where there were thousands of miles between us physically. I was holding down the fort at home, managing class, work, and raising four kids, while Gary was bringing home the bacon on a long term contract in Boise. The opportunity to drop everything and take a trip just for us seemed like an impossible, and frankly irresponsible, luxury.
On the other hand, it seemed just as irresponsible not to prioritize our marriage at a time when everything else seemed to be at the top of the list. And, there was the unmistakable signpost in the ebb and flow of our married life that demanded attention. After nearly 25 years, we were at a proverbial punctuation mark-a place where we needed to claim a sacred moment for our relationship as husband and wife.
To not take this trip would be like Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay reaching the summit and skipping the flag planting and picture taking.
Our Everest had come in the form of the inexorable task of raising children. I like to believe that our parenting mountain was more rugged than most-we had a child with ongoing and demanding special needs. What’s more, the blessing of adding more than the average number of children meant a protracted period of time when the demands to just meet the daily needs were relentless. Maybe it wasn’t harder for us, though, maybe we were just ill-equipped. Either way, loss is no respecter of reasoning. With every ounce we gave to better parenting, we lost to connection in our marriage.
After numbly putting one foot in the front of the other through those lean years, we had come out on the other side still in love and thrilled that neither of us had been permanently misplaced in the grueling process. Despite the damage done by a decade and a half of neglect, we were both still as committed as ever to our couplehood.
And that was a truth worthy of recognition.
This trip was an opportunity to honor the pain and sacrifice of the past, and make a commitment to the future. It was also a chance to just be us. To have fun-if we could remember how.
It turns out saying yes to the trip was the easy part. The deluge of duties that followed was almost enough to call it all off. I suppose it’s a fitting metaphor for marriage. Saying ‘I do’ is easy. Everything after that is where it gets gritty.
The trip we claimed in the name of “come hell or high water” started with each of us in a different state. My contribution to making it work involved getting four kids packed and headed in three different directions before hopping on an early flight to Houston. Meanwhile, back in Boise, he finished up a week full of meetings before narrowly making his first of several connecting flights. Our plan was to meet in Houston with just 30 minutes to spare to make the only flight out to Costa Rica.
As agreed, I board the flight early and wait for him to arrive, knowing that 30 minutes will be a close connection from one flight to the next. I can’t take my eyes off the doorway in anticipation. A mix nervous, giddy energy finds its way to my legs and I drum them incessantly-waiting, hoping, pinning so much more on this trip than just a few days of vacation.
Finally, he is walking down the aisle, and I can’t take my eyes off of him or wipe the smile off my face-a fitting twist for a modern love story.
When we lock eyes, all the extra energy falls away. I feel grounded At home. I feel the security that comes from a relationship between two people who have chosen to get dirty and broken year after year in the fight towards forever.
Remembering that feeling is always, no matter the distance needed to travel, worth the trip.