For real, it happened. I continue to be amazed at the tender and kind ways God cares for us when we are in a bad spot. We needed help — in many ways not knowing that we needed help — and God provided it in His usual mysterious and creative way.
Standing in the NYC subway station at 50th Street waiting for the Q train, we were both really frustrated with one another. I was needy and clingy; she was ambivalent and distant. The more we needed something from one another, the more we both retreated the other direction. It wasn’t actively messy; it was passively messy and that’s worse if you ask me.
To add insult to injury, we were late. The show was supposed to begin at 7pm and the Q train was taking forever to arrive in station. No way we were going to get there on time.
There we stood, facing the empty tracks with New York moving rapidly and happily around us while standing closely at a distance from one another, each wondering what was actually going on in the mind/heart of the other but neither being able to make sense of it. Whenever one would ask a question, the other would respond coldly. The idea was to not exacerbate things, but the choice to not exacerbate only led to further exacerbation. It was an illusory never-ending cycle leading to a perfect storm threatening to break the ship of this weekend that was the celebration of our eighteenth year of marriage.
Yep, you heard me right. We were fighting on our anniversary trip. Fighting about something we couldn’t put our finger on exactly. We still don’t know. Maybe it was the process of decompressing from “real life”, maybe it was the frantic-paced NYC industrialist culture, maybe it was just our flesh getting the better of us. Regardless, the subway platform that warm spring afternoon was frigid with the cold of our conflict, a conflict with seemingly purposeless existence.
I hate being late, especially for something I paid for, and this never-arriving train was driving me nuts as was my purposefully withdrawn wife. Behind me, I heard a train barreling into the station…the N train. I knew the Q and the N went the same basic direction, so I grabbed her by the arm, saying, “Let’s get this one. It’ll take us toward where we want to go.” Sitting silently beside one another on the wrong train, we disembarked five blocks south of where we wanted to be downtown, and now we were definitely late for the show.
Leading us down the sidewalk, I stuck my arm out to hail one of the myriad yellow cabs that crawl around New York City twenty-four hours a day. Instead, a sleek black car-for-hire pulled up in front us, no meter, which meant it would be more expensive. Thing is, I didn’t have time to mess around. We hopped in the back and I said, “What’s your rate?” and told him our destination that was not too far away.
The olive-skinned driver smiled warmly into the rearview mirror and said, “Fifteen dollars.” That was way more than we’d pay in a metered cab, but like I said, I hate being late.
“Fine, let’s go. We’re in a rush.”
Traffic was awful, as it always is. We sat there in silence for a few minutes, the driver looking back at us in the mirror under his taqiyah — a traditional Islamic male head covering. In a thick Middle Eastern accent — educated and articulate — he said, “So what are you two celebrating? I can tell you’re celebrating something because your face is glowing.”
He said this with a big smile on his face as he made eye contact with my wife. I do not think she nor I would have agreed that her face had that “glow” that it usually does.
I laughed out loud — lol-ed — and said, “Funny you ask. It’s our 18th anniversary.”
Being sure that the coldness of our in-the-moment tense relational nature was oozing everywhere, I assumed he got the joke, but he apparently didn’t. His eyes bugged out of his head and he responded with genuine awe, “You’re joking!”
“Nope,” I replied. “We were twenty when we got married. It’s been eighteen years.”
Sheri chimed in with a roll of the eyes, “Yes. It’s actually been that long.”
We had to reinforce the truth over and over again before he truly believed it, and he was amazed.
“Really!?! Eighteen years, I can’t believe it! You seem so happy, like you so belong together! I see a lot of people in my line of work and you two are special. Not everyone belongs together the way you two belong together.”
He continued, talking specifically to Sheri, still in disbelief: “You can’t be old enough to be married for eighteen years! How old are you?”
“We’re 38,” I answered for her.
“Yep. 38,” she said.
He freaked out. “38! You must be joking. You can’t be more than 30.”
Then he said (say this one out loud in your head with a Pakistani accent), “Honey, your momma did you right. You are positively radiant!”
Then looking at me, he told me how beautiful my wife was. This guy wasn’t a creep. He was old enough to be our father, maybe even our grandfather. He wasn’t flirting with Sheri while I sat there, he was genuinely surprised and caught up in the excitement of the moment that he was about to put into words, and he truly saw my wife’s beauty and named it.
“You two really have something special,” he said again. “Like I said, I see a lot of couples in my line of work and most of them don’t have what you have. You know, in my culture — I’m from Pakistan — people being married for decades is normal. But in your culture, it’s unheard of, especially at your age. And for you two to belong to one another the way you so obviously do is so rare. You are unique.”
By that time, we’d made it across the five block span and the driver showed us a shortcut to get to our destination. By that time, the atmosphere in the car had completely changed.
I was glad to pay the higher fee, and as he let us out, he called out, “Treasure each other! Happy anniversary!”
We left that cab a changed couple. God had spoken to us through a Pakistani Muslim father figure. This guy was really sharp, I could tell. He spoke with precision, education and intuition. He easily picked up on the tension that we were living in when entering the cab. The Lord’s voice through this loving man did not chastise us for our ignorance or lack of grace. He did not judge us for our selfishness or condemn us for our cold spirits toward one another.
It was fifteen minutes in an NYC cab, with a man who God used to channel His love to us, and it was twenty of the best dollars I’ve ever spent.
The show was great, and I was happy to be late.
You should have seen the glow on the face of the radiant woman on my arm as we walked in our true identity toward one another and celebrated eighteen years of marriage together.