Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Family and spirituality

To Fly Like That by Ian Barth



Julian and Alina, just married.

Alina McPherson is an editor at Bruderhof.com and someone I’ve worked with for the last couple of years. She’s a lovely person. Although I suspect that I’ve sometimes driven her crazy, she has always been tactful, polite, and good-humored. We live on different continents and communicate mostly by email, but I rejoiced to learn that she was recently married. Her husband, Julian Meier, is someone I knew during his formative years, and it has been astounding to see the way he has evolved from a sullen teenager into a thoroughly nice young man. (It gives me a lot of hope for my sons, in fact) In any case, their happy news has got me thinking about marriage.

In the weeks before our wedding, Olivia and I were given a lot of advice from older married couples. I’ve forgotten most of it. I do remember feeling overwhelmed by the number of times we received counseling on how to resolve disputes, the importance of saying sorry first, and the fact that it would not all be roses. I remember having to tell Olivia a few times that marriage would probably would not be as bad as it sounded. The advice that stuck came from a couple twenty years older than us, Scott and Sandra Campbell. Sandra’s advice was pretty simple: “If you don’t ever fight, you won’t have any chances to kiss and make up.” Scott’s advice was even simpler: “Enjoy the good times.”

Moors below Pen-y-Fan, Veronika Valdova

Moors below Pen-y-Fan, by Veronika Valdova

That was fifteen years ago, and I’m happy to say there have been plenty of opportunities to kiss and make up. And there have been hard things, and worries, and kids, and laughter, and in fact even the difficult times have been good times.

“If you don’t ever fight, you won’t have any chances to kiss and make up.” 

A few weeks ago Olivia and I were hiking in the Brecon Beacons – not bragging here, I’ve been in the United Kingdom half my life and this was the first time I’ve ever been – and after an hour’s climb we reached the top of the ridge, just below the peak of Corn Du. We stood looking out over the steep drop to the valley on the far side, sun and shadow over the grassy hills, grazing sheep, lakes gleaming blue.

Brecon Beacons, David Mark

Brecon Beacons, by David Mark

“Wow,” Olivia said to me, “Look at that bird, you can see its shadow on the ground below.” I looked. It was flying right toward us, very fast, and getting bigger, and I could see the shimmer of heat waves all around it.

“That’s no bird,” I said, and the fighter jet screamed over us, followed by a deafening roar, very low to the ground and banking almost ninety degrees as it swerved off down the next valley. We had different reactions; Olivia grabbed my arm and dug her fingers in. I just about screamed with excitement, “Look at that thing go!” Based on its distinctive twin vertical stabilizers, I guessed it was an F-18, but it was gone before I could get another look. Let me be clear: war planes do nasty stuff that I am totally opposed to, but boy would I love to fly like that. And an F-18 seats two people.

Eagle in Mach Loop over Wales, by Peng Chen

F-15 Eagle in Mach Loop over Wales, by Peng Chen

But wonderful and necessary as those honeymoon moments are, the best of the good times have snuck up on us on pretty ordinary days. Suddenly in the middle of a family walk, or some wildly ambitious project, the pandemonium of a cookout with friends, or reading Dick Francis aloud on the sofa after the kids are in bed, we’ll stop and look up at each other, and smile and thank God.

One of my all-time favorite poems is The Whitsun Weddings by Phillip Larkin. Speaking of newly-wed marriage, he writes that “what it held / Stood ready to be loosed with all the power / That being changed can give.”

Alina, Julian, think about the power of a supersonic airplane above the Brecon Beacons. It’s up to you what you do with it.



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