"Want to race?" he asked at the bottom of what looked like the Mount Everest of stairs. The leaves of Starved Rock were ablaze with autumn letting go of summer and the 4 p.m. sun lighting every tree around us aglow. There was a young couple not too far behind us. We had passed them on the trail in what appeared to be their engagement photo session and I didn't want to look as old as I felt so of course I replied, "Go!"
We’ve been married 28 years. Without a doubt we married too young, which is why even as grandparents the two of us can race each other up the stairs of Starved Rock. He gave me a head start, but won anyway, and wore the pride of his triumph like an Olympic medal for the rest of the afternoon.
The young couple passed us up later, where we stood hand in hand debating about when the last time was that we had walked these trails. Had it really been that long? I had to giggle at what we must sound like to them. If only they knew how quickly it was all going to go. If only they could see the trails from our perspective, with the ghosts of years running down them. We determined that our last Starved Rock trek was when all of our children were small, one who is now married and off on her own adventures, was in a carrier on daddy's back. That many years had gone by.
I studied the lines on my Olympic runner’s face. The years have made him more attractive than the last time we visited this beautiful place. It’s a secret the newly engaged couple should know, how it is possible they will love each other through youth and beautiful bodies right into the future where they have traded up for a life together. It was all the making mistakes together, outright failing and getting back up, staying when we wanted to run, figuring out what we didn’t understand that made us more beautiful to each other than anything youth had to offer.
"Why did it take us so long to return?" I wondered out loud. It was a series of life events, soccer practices, ministry work, side jobs, illnesses, yard work, holidays, birthday parties and more. All of it leading to today, the day we finally made it back to Starved Rock 21 years later.
We laughed over dinner at the Lodge about how badly our legs were throbbing and the fact that it was only 8 p.m. and we were ready to fall asleep, but we had finished looking backwards while on the autumn-painted trails. Instead we planned for the next 10 years even though our life has made us well aware that most of our plans don't cooperate with real living. Half the fun is imagining what is possible, the other half is surviving the impossible. "When are we coming back again?" He said with a wink.
Shari Tvrdik is director of special projects and communication for Cup of Cold Water Ministries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.