For years now Daddy has struggled to keep unobstructed the spring that feeds the pond from which he pumps irrigation water. In the course of one night, beavers can build – and have built on several occasions – a formidable dam that nothing will bust loose save several hours of ax-wielding. Every winter he spends an afternoon or two, hunched against the wind, freeing the spring of its obstruction.
Just the other day Mama was relating to some visiting friends this less than bucolic aspect of country living. While listening to the story of how Jake the Wonder Dog swam to the middle of the pond, subdued one of the interloping varmints and then amazingly made the necessary mathematical calculation to determine the shortest route back to land, one of the friends noticed an incredible example of the beavers' handiwork.
At the edge of the pond was an oak tree, as big around as a grown man's thigh, that had been completely eaten through by the resident rodents. What was so remarkable was that the tree had not fallen. It stood suspended in mid-air, levitating directly above the stump from which it had been amputated.
A quick glance confirmed that the law of gravity had not been repealed and that, in fact, the branches of the tree were entwined with those of another tree. The embrace of its neighbor kept it standing.
The reason those friends were visiting was to attend a wedding – their own. In a few short days, they and those who love them had put together the arrangements for a ceremony to be held on the front porch of Sandhill and on Sunday afternoon, as the wind chimes sang and the breeze licked at loose tendrils of hair and the hems of flirty dresses, they held hands and exchanged rings and promised to stay together forever.
"What greater joy," the judge asked the two of them and all of us who listened, " is there for two human souls than to join together to strengthen each other in all their endeavors, to support each other through all sorrow, and to share with each other in all gladness?
"Love is stronger than your conflicts, bigger than life's changes. Love is the miracle always inviting you to learn, to blossom, to expand. It is to love that you must always return.
"You are about to make vows and promises to each other. Today, these vows are beautiful words representing even more beautiful intentions. My prayer for you is that as you live these vows over the years, the meaning of these words will deepen, and the happy times of your life will be twice as joyous, because you'll be sharing them with someone you love. And when life gets tough, it will only be half as hard because there is someone by your side to help carry the burden."
Watching their faces, I couldn't help thinking about that tree, the one the beavers had chewed and gnawed and torn asunder. It had done nothing to invite the attack, nothing to encourage the assault, nothing to threaten its assailant and, yet, it very nearly found itself felled.
Most of the troubles that come our way are not the result of anything wrong we have done, anything important we have failed to do. They are simply the result of living in what the theologians call a fallen world. Bad things happen to good people, beavers cut down trees. What keeps them standing, the people and the trees, is being close enough to allow those nearby to bear some of the load.
I think, maybe, that that is as good definition of marriage as anything I've ever heard: two people standing close enough to each other to share the load.