Friday, November 30, 2007

Men typically do not remember anniversaries. There are myriad reasons for this, many of them analyzed, scrutinized, researched and dissected by scientists the world over, but I'll give you one: it's because the wedding day is all about the bride. It's true, it's her day. No matter how much sweat and toil he contributes to the big event, the groom is an ornament and the bride is the whole beautiful holiday tree that the family gathers around, celebrates, and adores. It's no wonder men forget their anniversaries, the wedding day makes a woman more of a woman, but it makes a man more like a woman, too. You dress him up, give him a manicure, and try not to laugh and point, while he tries to forget.

If there is any day that belongs to a man, it is the Day of Engagement. Women love to tell the story, (it's suddenly all about them again) they swoon and their eyes flutter and other women drape themselves on the hearing of it. There's a certain amount of melting and so forth, but I assure you, this is the man's day. If it weren't, it would be celebrated and marked on the calendar, but alas, few people remember the date of their engagement.

Unless it's on a Valentine's Day. Or their birthday.

Anyway, the reason it's the man's day is because this is the day he makes The Commitment. Women don't seem to understand the gravity of it, but commitment is the most difficult thing in the universe for a man to do. You may as well ask him to fill his shorts with poisonous beetles or dogsled nude across the Arctic, either of which he is more likely to agree to. For a man to commit, he has to decide to let a long conditioned and nurtured portion of his life just plain drop away. It's a miracle, really, why a man would decide to commit himself to one woman. I won't go into it. Mostly because I don't have the answers, and I can't account for miracles.

Yes, the day of engagement is a big day, and for me it was more moving than the wedding day itself. Not to detract from the awesome beauty of the ceremony -by no means! (I know she'll be reading this.) I'd had the ring in my possession for over a month, and I could have turned around and got my large sum of money back at any time. I could have stuck with that old sweet, careless life, and not embarrassed myself asking for the old man's permission (which he nervously granted, thank God) -but I didn't. Many women promise one thing, but a woman promises something more, and like the sirens and Odysseus, men are lulled and cajoled, however unwittingly.

A good man recognizes all of this, of course, and takes advantage of it as best he is able. I dragged Mrs. Ditchman all the way out to the Grand Canyon under the guise of we're going camping! It was snowing when we got there, (never go camping with a Hawkins) but they just happened to have reservations for two in my name at the old restaurant on the rim. I pulled out the ring after dinner, and she was stunned -never saw it coming- and began to cry. I overheard some folks at a table nearby whisper, "He's proposing!" and they took our picture.

That was just seconds after the big moment. See the glossy eyes? Those are real tears! Also note the sparkly on her finger. (The disinterested looker-on behind her I cannot explain. He's either jealous, or about to propose himself, which would explain the sickly gaze.)

Turns out we weren't camping in the snow (duh) as I had gentlemanly secured the finest suite in the historic lodge, and we retired to the room with a bottle of wine and our cel phones to tell it on the family. But before we did, we walked outside (the attention we were receiving in the restaurant was overpowering) and stood there in the dark, in the falling snow, at the rim of the Grand Canyon. I remember it perfectly. Here we were at the view of all views, the most massive and unforgettable vista on the continent, and you couldn't see a thing. I spied a few lights down the cliff, in the canyon, and pointed them out. It looked like a couple of hikers in the dark, with flashlights, heading either out of, or into, the canyon, and it was a foreboding sight, for you had to use your imagination to see the landscape around them.

I told Mrs. Ditchman, "See those two lights? That's us, a few months from now. A couple of people heading out into the great unknown, with little more than a few flashlights, and just each other to warm the path and light the way. They don't really know what's out there, because they can't see it, but they know it's great. They believe it wholeheartedly. Otherwise, they wouldn't be doing it. They believe it. And they have faith." And then I was married to her. I was committed forever right then and there. No ceremony would change it, catalyze it, or contain it. The wedding would be a terrific formality and an unforgettable party, but at that moment on the rim of the Grand Canyon... that was it.

That was five years ago today.

The sun is up on our Grand Canyon now and it is a wonderful sight. My life has soared to unimaginable heights and I have one person to thank. If I had only known it would be like this, I wouldn't have fought it as long as I did, but that's the way men are. I know a lot of men who can't commit to a favorite beer, much less a girl, so if a guy asks a girl to marry him, he deserves some respect and attention. And encouragement.

Mrs. Ditchman is an amazing woman. She impresses me day in and day out, and has been a source of inspiration since the day we were wed. I've never known someone so steadfast in her work, so dedicated to the point of obsession, and so tolerant of me -and for these things I am eternally grateful. She's made me a better man, moreso she's made a man out of me. As well, a man doesn't really respect a woman until he sees her raising his children, for this is what a woman was born to do and a man, well, he just tries, flapping about. When the children come, a man is so grateful for his wife that he is moved to tears of sacrifice previously unknown, which from then on go misunderstood, but are hopefully, eventually accepted.

Every morning this lady gets up and does the hard thing. When needs arise she meets them, and when the child is unbearably cute, she bears it and keeps discipline. She tries to stay upbeat as best she is able, tries to stay alert as long as is possible, and serves unendingly, unselfishly, with love and cheer, and lately with courage and strength -and for all this I am indebted, and in love.

Sure, I did the hard thing for a man, and I committed myself to all this, but it's clear she committed herself to so much more, and she deserves a husband who works at least a little bit harder, and loves her at least a little bit more.

Smart as I am for doing it, I'm a very lucky man.