Lewis recognises a sacrifice when he sees one. That is why, reflecting on his sixteen years marital journey with Martha, he does not fail to identify all the adjustments his lady has made for him and their children — emotional, physical, time, and even career adjustments — that helped to vanquish the fear he used to entertain before entering this marriage. Recounting them in a letter to Martha makes those sacrifices sound out of this world, but to Lewis they are real and unforgettable.
Do you remember today’s date: Saturday, April 22? Sixteen long years have come and gone since you and I stood in church that late morning and said, “I do!” Sixteen years!
It’s true they say that when you are having fun time flies, and I can add that our “I do” has become “we have”—that is, so far so good.
I’m a slow letter-writer, but I’m going to make sure I complete this letter and hand it over to you tonight when we go for the dinner.
When the children chorused that they wanted us to spend this day out in their favourite restaurant and I said “Yes, why not?” I thought it was more for their sakes than for ours. But how wrong I was, come to think of it.
The sixteenth anniversary of our marriage ceremony is worth celebrating more for our sake than for the children’s. They’re thinking of the food in the restaurant, but we are thinking of sixteen years of God’s goodness towards us.
They are thinking about the fun, but we are thinking of weightier matters. Well, weightier matters can be fun too, but, hey, only after you’ve gone through them!
For one thing, what our pre-marital marriage counsellor told us is now truer than it was when I first heard it. He said, “Marriage is a school from which you never graduate.”
We’ve been through quite a learning process, but I don’t feel like a graduate of those processes, except that I feel more grown-up than sixteen years ago when the excitement of a new married life overwhelmed me.
As I recall, and when I evaluate them all, I testify to your commitment. I feel that you’ve put more into our marriage than I have; that you’ve made more sacrifices than I’ve made. You’ve been quite amazing, Martha; I’m serious.
You’ve handled our marriage like an examination candidate who is careful not to fail. Or rather, thinking about it now, I nod with a meaningful understanding the role you’ve played as a committed wife.
May I remind you of what I mean? Remember the very first thing that happened. The year we got married, you were due for this midwifery course in The Netherlands.
I remember promising you during the last days of our courtship that you would do the course for sure despite the coming wedding, but we had one common concern.
“You sure you will not stop me from going for the course?” you asked.
“Me?” I said. “Never! Why should I, my dear?”
“It may not be your intention, Lewis,” you said, confusing me; “but think about it . . .”
“If I get pregnant before the time and cannot go on the trip, who really did it?” You looked at me in a funny way and rolled your misty eyes at me, and made me feel like a really bad boy—which I turned out to be!
Your concern was prophetic; for only a few months to your departure date you began to feel dizzy and throw up, and that was your body’s way of announcing that a baby was on the way. I really felt guilty. But you handled it in a way that still rings a bell in my spirit.
While some of your colleagues thought you should have hidden the pregnancy and left for The Netherlands, you chose to abandon the trip. For one thing, the host hospital in Amsterdam wouldn’t have been too pleased with you for arriving for a one-year intensive course with a six-month old pregnancy.
You didn’t want to risk being deported back on arrival. And to go underground in that country in your condition as a pregnant new wife with no one to turn to was not a bright idea.
Yet it was a great sacrifice for you to abandon that trip despite the odds, because I know a thousand and one midwives who would have jumped at the chance without the least thought about the poor husband and the innocent child — for the sake of illusive guilders or dollars that are reported to be stashed along the streets!
I recall that the course was like competitive bidding: the moment you decided that undertaking that trip was neither in our best interest nor that of our baby’s, a colleague of yours was quickly chosen to go.
And you took it so well, not feeling that our marriage and its immediate consequence had deprived you of a lifelong ambition. You gave it up and didn’t make any reference to it in a negative way, although later when the baby was born we tried to see if you could still make the trip, but the programme had been abrogated and the chance was gone forever. Yet you’ve never complained.
They told us during the pre-marital counselling that we were bound to make adjustments during our life together as a couple. Now, looking back sixteen years, I notice that you’ve made more adjustments than I have.
Let me reveal to you another adjustment you’ve made. I’ve always known myself as a relatively slow person. I like to take my time and not be in a hurry.
In fact, when I was a boy, my mother used to have problems with me about this. When my other siblings would be ready for school, I would still be in the bathroom drying myself. Mum would burst into the bathroom and yell, “Are you going to take forever to have your bath?
Act like a man, my boy, act like a man!” One day she told me, “I pray you don’t get to marry a woman who does things hurriedly. How would she ever cope with this tortoise slow behaviour of yours, huh?”
Mum was a fast-moving woman. Whenever the whole family was going somewhere, mother always walked ahead of us; even ahead of our father. She did things so speedily that I think we kept on frustrating her, judging from the way she yelled at us.
Now I will tell you why my proposal to you delayed although it was obvious from our closeness at church that I was meant to make a proposal to you.
I loved everything about you — your activeness as a Sunday School teacher, your secretaryship on the young people’s guild, and for being the most active usher among the lot. But I feared your speed! You did everything fast fast fast, even the way you talked and walked.
I remember praying one day, “Lord, you know I’m a slow coach, so why did you create Lady Martha to do things so speedily if she was meant to be my future wife?”
I feared that if we got married I might not be able to cope with your speedy way of doing things, hence my delayed proposal.
That was one of those times when I wished Mom was still alive for me to confide in her; for I would have asked her, “Did you really mean it, mum, when you once said to me as a boy that it wouldn’t be a bright idea to marry someone so fast?”
But mum, our great mum, died rather so fast — almost as fast as she went about doing things when she lived on earth.