You know that guy in Utah? The one that went hiking around Moab and ended up trapped by the boulder from hell and had to hack off his hand at the wrist with a pocket knife? I’m beginning to think of that tragic tale as a near perfect analogy for marriage.
I mean. Think about it. The guy works like a fool just to get himself to this glorious, starkly beautiful environment of lurking death. He be-bops along, enjoys the rose tinged boulders, thinks he’s the luckiest, cleverest fool in the history of the world to have discovered these deep clefts and smooth surfaces.
Next thing he knows, he jumps down into this inviting crevasse and looks up just in time to see this bitch of a boulder falling through the air to pin his wrist to the side of the mother of all rocks. You know he’s gotta be looking up at that stone prison falling toward him in slow motion, like an innocently smiling virgin stepping inexorably down the aisle, and part of his brain has got to be screaming, “N-o-o-o!”
And the boulder. Let’s think about that for a minute. Birthed by the bedrock, prepared for eons by rain and wind and the natural erosion of the mother rock to fall with no more thought than, well, than a bride going to her goofily smiling groom. Slipping, as easily as nature herself, through the golden, red-tinged air, to fall precisely, pinning the hapless young man to the side of the canyon he thought to plunge into with the reckless joy of ignorant youth.
So he’s pinned.
He spends a day or two trying to think his way out of his predicament. He denies he’s stuck. He wiggles and squirms and stretches and moans. He enjoys a sunset or two. Prays to the God that created the freaking boulder. Watches a couple of killer sunrises. Decides to cut off his hand to save the rest of his life.
If you’ve ever been married, go ahead, tell me you’ve never been right there.
But, nuh uh, nope. That hand’s not coming off that easily. His tiny little pocket knife is not going to cut through the solid bone of the good wrist given him by a loving Lord.
So he waits. He gives up. He resigns himself to living the rest of his short, miserable life, trapped by this rosy stone to the side of the bedrock. He waits. If he’d had a TV, he’d have watched it, remote clutched firmly in his good hand, proof of his amazing control over his life.
He thinks about all the people he knows who seem to skip merrily through their little jaunts in the countryside. He wonders what the hell is the matter with him that he didn’t just leap over the abyss and keep enjoying his sunny freedom.
He remembers the life he had before he trapped himself in the wilderness. So long ago now, it feels like it happened to someone else. Someone happy. Someone free.
Maybe he thinks about his mother and the lies she told him about the joys to be found in committing to that leap of faith. He waits. He drinks his own urine. Watches the fuzzy black images of the circling buzzards.
He waits. He thinks about what he’d do with the rest of his life if he could just get out of this mess. He drifts for a while in a haze of pre-death exhaustion. He thinks about those dark, feathered portents of rot and decay gathering silently over his head, drawn by the smell of the gangrene. He smiles. He waits just a little longer, letting his hope build his strength and courage.
Then he plunges his tiny steel blade into the now rotten bone of his wrist. Even now, nothing is quick or easy. He cuts and scrapes and digs for the joint. He screams and rants and gives up a dozen times. Only his sure knowledge that he will die if he can’t escape, keeps him hacking away at his stinking flesh.
In the end, he’s free. Missing a part of himself, half-dead from the ordeal, but free. And still miles from safety or any solid hope of survival. Now he puts one foot in front of the other, prays he’s lucid enough that he’s navigating in the correct direction, and just keeps walking. For many, many steps, long past the time when common sense dictates he give up, curl peacefully in a fetal position and embrace his death, he walks. One painful step at a time. Not letting himself think about the reality that he’s hacked off a vital piece of his own body. He just staggers toward what he hopes is the direction of progress and life.
Having done all he can to save himself, it’s a combination of luck and love that save him. Other hikers, strolling blissfully along on their own adventure, stumble across him, very nearly dead on his feet, though still standing. At the same time, his mother, frantic for days now at his disappearance, has begged, prodded and threatened the authorities into putting a helicopter in the air to look for him. That helicopter is less than a mile away when he’s discovered by the happy family of hikers.
At the hospital, the experts bring him back from the dead. Then they cut off his arm again. Higher up and cleaner. They rig him up with an artificial hand. He even has a prosthetic with a climbing hook. Unbelievably soon he convinces himself he’s come out of his ordeal better than new. He gets on with his life with a new joy in each new dawn. He rushes right out and looks for another virgin wilderness to explore and enjoy. After all, he’s better prepared this time. Why, he even has a steel hook to replace the soft, vulnerable puny hand he had during his first ordeal.
Admittedly, I might be having a bad day. But, seriously, isn’t that whole trapped-in- the-desert-drink-your-own-urine ordeal a perfect analogy for marriage? That platitude that everyone tells you when you’re going through a rough spot in your marital life? You know the one.
“If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”
Life can be hard enough that it leaves you crippled and panting on the side of a forsaken road, just praying for the rot to set in so you can scrape, hack and saw your way out of yet another disaster, leaving an additional appendage to feed the earth off of which you’ve managed to drag your sorry ass.
And yet, we love, we risk, we throw ourselves into that narrow canyon and thank God for the opportunity. Because love, when we get it right, changes everything.