Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Three Little Words

Today is our 39th wedding anniversary. Thirty-nine years is a long time to live at close range with another human being. We’ve had our ups and downs. But what’s made it work all these years is, I think, three little words we learned to say to each other early on in our married life. No, not those; another three. But I jump ahead.

Years ago now, when I was a graduate student at Southern Seminary, I was invited one Sunday morning to be the “supply preacher,” that’s what they called it, at a rural church south of Louisville. The gentleman who made the invitation had given me directions to the church over the telephone. The church was located in a small farming community about a hundred miles from Louisville, about 25 miles off the interstate. When I told him that I wasn’t from these parts and that I hoped we’d have no trouble finding the church, he said: “Oh don’t worry. It’s real easy to find.” Yeah, right. Famous last words.

Well, Cheryl and I started out early Sunday morning heading for that little church. It was a beautiful fall morning and the drive down Interstate 65 was delightful. We took the exit the man had told us to take and already our problems started. He had told us to get off the exit and turn left, but he had neglected to tell us that this exit ramp accessed not one but two parallel roads, one a state road and one a county road. Cheryl thought we should take the state highway, but I was sure that the county road sounded more like the road he'd described to me. It was 10:00 and he had said that when we exited the Interstate, we were about a 30-minute drive from the church. Cheryl and I had only been married a few years at the time, but already I had noticed and documented that her sense of direction was hopelessly flawed. “We’ll take the county road,” I said.

She said: “I’m sure you told me that he said to take the state highway.”

I said: “When you drive, do I tell you which way to go?”

She said: “So what’s your point?”

We took the county road. After about fifteen minutes, the pavement began to run out and we found we were traveling on gravel. I have to admit that that concerned me, but then he’d said it was a rural community.

Cheryl said: “This doesn’t look right.”

I said: “Sure it’s right. Just wait. The town will be right around this next bend.”

She said: “If we turn around now, we’ll have enough time to get back to the interstate and take the other road. You know the other road, don’t you? It’s the one I told you to take in the first place.”

You know, I was beginning to see a whole new side to my young bride. She was so sweet and kind when I married her.

Then we passed a filling station. Cheryl said: “Hey, I’ve got a novel idea. Why don’t you stop and ask directions!”

You know, now that I think back on it, the whole time we dated she never once used sarcasm when she spoke to me.

I said: “Ask directions? Ask directions? This is Kentucky, woman! Dan’el Boone’s home state! You don’t ask directions here! You just keep the sun over your shoulder and your jaw set!”

About a quarter to eleven, we were deep into pastureland. The only thing living and moving other than us was the livestock out grazing in the fields.

She said: “Well Dan’el, don’t look now but I think you’re lost!” Smart Alec.

I was fuming. We passed a donkey out in one of the fields. Never looking at her I said: “One of your relatives?”

She said: “Yeah, on my husband’s side.”

It was 11:15 when I finally turned the car around and, spewing gravel in my wake, I headed back. They were just coming out of the church to go home when we pulled up. A man walked over to the car. I got out more red faced than any farmer there. The man whose voice I recognized said: “Purdes called us about quarter to eleven (Purdes, he runs the Sinclair station way out on the county road) and said some folk with Louisville plates just drove past his station and that we’d better go on with the service because the preacher was gonna be late.”

It was a quiet ride home…very quiet. The air was so thick you could trowel it. Finally, breaking the silence, I said to my bride the three hardest words one person ever has to say to another: “I was wrong.”

Three little words.

We’ve said them a lot to each other in the intervening years, more than either of us wishes we had had to. But they’re good words nonetheless…strong words…words you can build a marriage…and a life…around. I oughta know; I’m an expert.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a touching story. Your words have blessed me today. Peace to you.