I knew something that she didn’t know about the cornfield on the left. “Guess what they’re going to build there,” I said. “I dunno, what?” she replied. “A gas station,” I answered. “Not the whole 100 acres–just that corner by the stoplight.”
I knew this because our firm had won the bid to do the geotechnical investigation in advance of the site plan approval and construction of the project. I thought she would be a little impressed that I knew something of the development plans for our part of the county. I thought that she might be happy to hear that I might have a job site close to home. Instead, I noticed tears in her eyes before I drove another mile down the road. “There is nothing in New Jersey that just stays the way it is. Farms can’t stay farms. Empty land has to be sold and built on. Nothing is sacred,” she sniffled as I finally pulled in front of the house. We unloaded the car after our weekend away and started bedtime routines with the kids.
“There is nothing in New Jersey that just stays the way it is. Farms can’t stay farms…Nothing is sacred…”
After all four children were down and out, she took me up on my offer to sit under the tree in the backyard. I lit a pipe and admired the last few leaves on our black walnut, solemn and still in the brown streetlight from the nearby alley. There were already dozens of stars out and a few crickets were singing. It was a sirene early autumn evening, although a little chilly. I was at ease–happy to be off the road and alone with my wife.
Rebecca’s thoughts were miles away. “It is so beautiful where Guy and Hannah live,” she said. “Life is so peaceful there. The fields and the hills go on forever. I would love to be able to walk out my front door and see that every day.” I didn’t have an answer. Eight neighbors’ windows were lit and I could see the traffic light change from yellow to red through our picket fence over her shoulder. A baby could be heard crying, but it wasn’t our own. Suddenly I was reminded how closely we lived to our neighbors. The contrast to Juniata County was jarring.
The chill in the evening air became too much for Rebecca and before long I was alone with my tree and my thoughts. From my blue canvas camp chair I looked out at our 0.09 acre for the first time, as it were, from my wife’s eyes. Our majestic walnut wasn’t such a glorious canopy in the dull glow of the brown streetlight. In fact, it looked caged. The crickets’ song was swallowed for a moment by the wake of the firetruck that sirened down Broad Street and onto the state highway a block away. I didn’t count to verify, but it seemed like fewer stars were visible.
Before long I was alone with my tree and my thoughts. From my blue canvas camp chair I looked out at our 0.09 acre for the first time, as it were, from my wife’s eyes.
It occurred to me tonight how differently we see the setting of our very house, the place that we together call Home. We have always considered our colonial at 30 Broad Street less than ideal, but in a profound way I realized tonight how much my wife was sacrificing to live at this address. Of course I wish that we had more property, and I think it’s sad that we have only one tree. But my Jersey upbringing has trained me to see the upside–a smaller yard means shorter mowing time and less work during fall cleanup. After all, the neighbors’ tree is barely larger than a sapling.
I was raised to appreciate that state parks and game farms and hatcheries were all around us–just a short drive away in any direction. We still have almost a dozen farms near town that didn’t subdivide before the Highlands Act made it illegal, and look how our state taxes are keeping them afloat as preserved farmland. This really is the most beautiful part of a beautiful state, if only you have eyes to see it.
But tonight was the closest that I have ever come to seeing our county, our town, and our home from the view of my own wife, my own flesh.
But tonight was the closest that I have ever come to seeing our county, our town, and our home from the view of my own wife, my own flesh. She who grew up with 200 acres of Pennsylvania farmland at her disposal hasn’t been trained to see the beauty in New Jersey that has been left untouched by commercial development–she mostly sees the commercial development. She is not cheered to know that three state parks are 10 minute drives in three different directions–she hears “drive,” not “walk.” She who as a little girl roamed a hundred-acre wood thinks me soft in the head to obsess over our single black walnut that only lies on our property by a mere trunk width.
Tonight I finally stopped what I didn’t even realize that I had been doing. I finally stopped expecting Rebecca to see what I saw and to love what I loved and to appreciate what I had grown accustomed to defending. Tonight I finally wept with those who were weeping. She who was weeping was my wife.
I finally stopped expecting Rebecca to see what I saw and to love what I loved and to appreciate what I had grown accustomed to defending.
And it wasn’t about land use or the preservation of open space. It wasn’t about New Jersey or Pennsylvania or the country or how many inches of space shoehorn between our north wall and our neighbor’s vinyl siding. It wasn’t about how many acres or how quiet the front porch, but it was suddenly and clearly all about perspective.
Christ’s commands to love our enemies aren’t instructions in the abstract. In Matthew 5, our Lord tells us, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” We don’t love our enemies from a distance–we love them by walking in step with them, living alongside them. How much more our spouses and children and brothers! It is the natural bent of my heart to look to my own interests and not to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). After 10.3 years of marriage I finally made a major step in understanding why my wife finds Warren County no comparison to Susquehanna County. I finally relaxed my posture of debate–but only after I realized that there was no one on the other side of the table. I had always been debating with words while my wife was loving me with action.
I had always been debating with words while my wife was loving me with action.
Rebecca didn’t take a New Jersey address for the school districts or the bagels or the proximity to The Met. She certainly didn’t cross the Delaware for the tax code or the baseball teams. She didn’t fence herself into a town lot without a view for anything other than love of husband. My wife has forsaken wide open spaces to make my people her people and my church her church. Tonight I finally met her on the riverbank, so to speak, and thanked her for braving the current and the wilds on this side.
Sara Groves sings a line, “Lovin’ a person just the way they are–it’s no small thing / it’s the whole thing.” Tonight I became aware just how well my wife has been loving me all along.
October 5, 2015