Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Romantic Effort (and Contemplation)

4:30am, alone in the middle of nowhere, below freezing point temperature, pitch-black visibility, loose gravel and 17 kilometers to travel on foot before 7am.  Those were the conditions that I willingly and joyfully endured for the chance to hear my wife’s voice and to say to her “Good morning.  I love you!”

I am a bit of an unconventional romantic and always keen for a realistic but demanding physical challenge.  That was why I found myself shuffling along at a slow jog, following a winding gravel road on a moonless morning, with only a scattering of faint starlight filtering through the overhead canopy of leaves to guide my way.  I was helping supervise a school camp in the middle of winter and we were staying at the Ngatuhoa Lodge which was over eight kilometers from reliable cell phone reception in the Kaimai ranges of New Zealand’s North Island.

There were a number of aspects of this challenge which I remember clearly
It was really, really dark.  For much of the journey I could see more light from glow worms than from the stars above.  With trees growing thick and high, and bending over the one lane loose gravel road, there was not a lot of chance for light to get through even during day time.  There was just enough light for me to be able to make out a narrow path of gravel compressed by the very few vehicles that travel the road.  But not always.  A lot of the time I had to rely on the feel of the gravel through my Nikes to tell me whether I was still in the right position.  Thankfully it was pretty obvious if I was getting closer to the edge of the road.  I did stop once or twice to make sure that I was making the correct decisions about direction as there are more than one intersections for logging trucks out there.

It was really, really quiet.  I was making the only sounds that I could hear.  Crunch, and scatter of gravel.  Fabric of my shirt rubbing against the synthetic material of my backpack.  The steady intake and exhaust of my breath keeping a sort of rhythm with my heart in my ears.  No animal sounds, and not even wind rustling trees until I neared the top of the 3 or four hills along the way.  The only other man-made noise was a logging truck that passed me while I was on the phone out at the “main” road where I was talking to my sleepy wife at 6am.  The bugger didn’t even stop to check that I was okay out there in the middle of nowhere.  He probably didn’t see me since I was hunkered down avoiding the chill of the wind.

It was really, really cold.  In one of the pictures I took you can see the frost that had formed on my beanie.  Inside my fingerless gloves I had to keep changing position every few minutes to allow sensation to return to the latest fingers that had gone numb.  My nose was too cold to feel that it was running and too cold to feel more than the general pressure when I wiped it on the back of my glove from time to time.  I stepped in the occasional puddle that had become ice, but thankfully my backpack had enough thermal protection to keep the water in my bottle in liquid form.

I had a few carefully thought out items in my backpack.  Some simple first aid bits (wide strapping tape and pocket knife), some home-made chocolate fudge emergency rations, my water bottle, my phone, a polar fleece jumper, and finally some water proof matches if my memory serves me right.

I remember a lot of my thoughts also.  I was concerned with the time I had available and I didn’t know the distance I had to cover, or how close I was to the main road, until I was within about 300 meters of it.  I kept checking my watch every 10 minutes or so for something to do.  I would occupy myself for part of the time by working out the latest possible time I would have to turn around so that nobody would worry if they got up around 7am and found me still gone.  I had told a few people what I was doing so they would know where to come and find me, but it was a nice little bit of pressure to add to the mix and force me to keep moving when I felt like stopping.  My thoughts were also on Psalm One which I was in the process of studying in order to preach on at church in the near future.  I would recite it over and over, getting into little side-tracks of thought and consideration of the meaning and application of the verses.

What occupied my thoughts the most, and drove me to maintain a good pace on the way out to the gate, was the thought of being able to talk to my wife on the first day that I would not see her since we had gotten married a little over a month ago.  I had to make it out to the gate, an unknown distance, in less than an hour and a half and despite all of these challenging conditions.

A little before 6am, I made it.  I stopped for some water so that I could talk without my dry throat betraying a steady voice, and to put on my polar fleece to keep warm while I waited within the zone of reception.  Then I took out my phone, turned it on, and rang my love.  The phone rang, and rang, and rang again.  Then it was answered... by voicemail!  I was horrified!  I left a suitably loving message for posterity, and then tried again just in case.  This time I heard the sleepy voice of my wife on the other end.  It turned out that she had rejected the call before (by accident) and it had sent me through to voicemail.  Being a little more awake the second time, she answered and was pleased to hear my voice also.  We chatted for a bit, expressing our great love for each other, and then I let her get back to sleep while I took a couple of photos of me at the gate as evidence of my success and then made a start on the journey back to the toasty warm lodge.

The mental side of the journey was most fascinating for me.  I am quite a reflective person, so I wasn’t surprised to find myself in a deep philosophical contemplative mode as I ran.  What was fascinating were the subjects of my thoughts.  While I do a lot of thinking, I don’t really do a lot of thinking about thinking.  Out in the wilderness, and perhaps being newly married, I had turned my thoughts inward a lot more than usual.  I remember observing my own thoughts in a very distinct third person point of view, almost watching them form and run their course in my mind while they took care of themselves.  

I remember deciding that this crazy task I was doing, running through adverse conditions to tell my wife that I loved her, was not so far off a parallel of everything that Christ had done to show his love for his bride, the church.  He lived a perfect life, suffered much pain and eventually death on the cross, leading to resurrection and bodily ascension into heaven, and is now guiding his bride into holiness via the holy spirit.  His acts should inspire us to feel abundant gratitude towards him and to love him and change ourselves to be more pleasing to him as some small way of showing these inspired feelings.  I was hoping to demonstrate my own love for my wife in this, and by that I hoped to inspire her to love me more and to show her love for me more by being grateful that I had gone through this for her.  

Every gift I give and sacrifice I make for my wife should be aimed at inspiring her to be a more godly woman.  In doing so, I will become a more loving husband and a more godly man.  Above all, God will be glorified in our attitudes and intentions as we do this.

So, a few months down the track, the most memorable thing isn’t the cold, it isn’t the dark, it isn’t even the strange contemplative process that took place while I ran.  What I remember the strongest is the sound of my sleepy wife’s voice causing my heart to leap in my chest and the blood rush in my veins for joy as she said, “I love you too, babe.”

May we blokes always be willing to put ourselves through a bit of a hard time for our women.