Christian and I met ten years ago, as starry-eyed 23 and 24 year olds, both trying to find our place in the world. At the time, there was only one place in Northern Virginia for like-minded, passionate twenty-somethings looking for their life’s purpose: Dr. Dremo’s in Arlington, where dedicated and haphazard kickball players alike could wrestle some heady topics over a competitive game of beer pong. It was a gem of an establishment. (The county seemed to differ on this view as it was torn down several years ago).
A mutual friend introduced us and, needless to say, we hit it off. Within two months, we both knew we weren’t casually dating- it was the real deal. It is so cliché to say opposites attract, but it is undeniably true in our case. One of our early lingering phone conversations (remember those?) I told Christian he was the type of guy who never loses the cap to his toothpaste, to which he quickly replied, “How do you lose the cap to your toothpaste?” Point proven. Of course, this made our relationship interesting, if not mind-boggling at times.
Differences aside, we had one very critical thing in common. We really liked clowns- like LOVED them. Just kidding. No, we shared the belief of the holistic nature of life, that life was not just about work, about friends, about exercise and getting outdoors, about traveling, about contribution, about family, about faith, about good food. It was about all of these things together. It was about trying to find the balance, the sweet spot, where our days reflected these values- most of the time at least.
Seven years of marriage, one stinky hound dog, two tireless children, a house and mortgage payment to boot- life is seemingly more complex then it was ten years ago. Responsibilities will do that to life. It is safe to say our differences have created turmoil on many an occasion over the years. I’d like to say we’ve “never let the sun go down” on our anger and frustration on these occasions, but let’s be real here. This is HARD if not impossible when you go to bed envisioning life on a commune, with ONLY women. Nevertheless, we talk things out, tensions are resolved, and we set our eyes back on that “sweet spot” that sustains us. It is an ever-present challenge, but it’s worth every ounce of effort.
There are many elements of living that kind of just happen in family life. We go to work. We get the kids together with our friends. We eat meals together. We use vacation time to visit family. We carve time out to exercise semi-regularly. These are blessings. We know this. But the truth is, it’s not enough. Because what’s missing from this mix, is time together, just Christian and I. It’s funny how our lives are filled with so much, yet when you strip it down to the basics, to what set this whole thing in motion, you find just two people, the two of us. Nurturing this would be the most common-sense thing to do, yet it’s the hardest. Life get’s busy. Getting a sitter and doing something “just the two of you” becomes the ultimate luxury, one that admittedly, doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
So recently, Christian and I discussed what we wanted to do for our upcoming seven-year anniversary. We talked about going to a nice dinner, like we had done in years past. But I thought on this a little longer, unwilling to settle on these plans. I found myself thinking of things that Christian and I have always loved to do together, the activities and scenery that truly restore us, and I found us in one place again and again- in the woods.
On our very first date, Christian brought me to Great Falls Park. We hiked a couple of miles to the falls and then had a very romantic picnic with wine and cheese. We talked and laughed without a care in the world. We would return to these trails several times in the years following. We spent time in our local Roundtree Park, a place he and his brothers grew up mountain biking. On snowy days, we would bundle up and traipse through the white covered hill tops. We would go to Roosevelt Island and the Potomac Heritage Trail, hiking along the shoreline and taking in the views of Georgetown and Washington, DC.
On the weekends, we would set out for George Washington National Forest and the Shenandoah Mountains. We would find the perfect circular route or an out-and-back with incredible vistas or beautiful waterfall with accompanying swimming hole- a perfect place for a thoughtful, calculating man to pop the question to an unsuspecting woman.
When we traveled, we would seek our refuge in the outdoors. We would explore the marshy trails in Florida and the bird sanctuaries. We would traverse through the Pennsylvania forests, through fresh fallen snow. In California, a most-magical place, we’d make our way through the early morning fog that had settled over the rolling hills and valleys of wine country. It seems odd, but it wouldn’t be until I experienced the breathtaking beauty of Muir Woods, the ethereal quality of those enormous redwoods, that I understood how restorative a few hours in the woods really was for me, but most importantly, for us. As we sat a top the mountainside that day, enjoying a cold beer, a reward after a full day of hiking, I felt rejuvenated, as did our marriage. I knew then- we need this.It was if we were going back in time, to the stripped down version of us, to just the two of us. We could be without distractions for hours. We could talk or be silent, taking in a world that we too often ignored. We could step outside our busy lives and reflect on one simple question, How are we doing? And there was no room for anything but the truth. We could communicate, connect, and breathe in a way our routine lives didn’t allow. It’s as if the natural world demands authenticity.
So it is for these reasons we opted to forgo the fancy dinner and head out to hike the Signal Knob loop trail in the George Washington National Forest for our anniversary. For nearly ten miles, we walked at a fairly good clip, talking and laughing, shaking off the excess and getting back to the basics. Are we loving well? Are we living well? What do we need to do to get back to that “sweet spot” that sustains us? I would say, undoubtedly, we were one foot in the right direction.