ValueSpeak

A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker

 

MORE THAN A PIECE OF PAPER

Mike was nervous. And I've got to be honest: I sort of enjoyed watching him squirm.

I've seen him with the ball in his hands and time running out and the game on the line, and I didn't see nervousness in his eyes -- just resolve. I've seen him at the plate with his team behind in the bottom of the ninth, and I didn't see fear -- just determination. I've seen him stand at a church pulpit, with a congregation of hundreds hanging on every word, and I didn't see anxiety -- just peace.

There's nothing wimpy about this young man. He's been a high school and college athlete. He has overcome academic challenges to earn straight A's. He spent two years doing volunteer service for his church. He operates his own lawn care business. He is an accomplished outdoorsman who has

successfully hunted deer, elk, duck, pheasant and the fearsome Western prairie dog.

OK, so I don't really understand the prairie dog thing. I still know Mike well enough to know that he's not the kind to back down from anything. That's why it was so interesting to see the nervous look in his eye when he asked to speak to me privately the other night.

And make no mistake about it: Mike was nervous. As we sat in the front room -- knee to knee -- his eyes darted around, never lingering long on mine. His lip twitched, almost quivered. He twisted and tugged at the baseball cap in his hands. His voice trembled slightly as we made small talk. I was stunned at the transformation of this calm, confident young man.

And yes, I enjoyed it. You see, I'm not what you would call an intimidating person, so it's nice to have a sharp guy like Mike show proper respect for my standing as King of the Castle. I mean, I love democracy and the principles for which it stands, but let's face it: it's good to be King.

"Mr. Walker," he said, his voice still shaky, "I want to ask Amy to marry me."

Suddenly I understood. He wasn't intimidated by me. He wants to marry my daughter.

No wonder he's nervous.

Not that there's anything wrong with Amy. She's terrific, and they are adorable together. But marriage is such a big step, and they're both so young, and life can be so . . . you know . . . life-like.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked him.

For the first time, he looked at me directly. "Yes, sir," he said confidently. "I'm sure."

He'd better be. Today as never before, the institution of marriage is under attack. Prominent people pretend marriage doesn't really mean anything -- and they live their lives accordingly. Comedians joke about it ("My wife and I were happy for 20 years," says one comic. "Then we met"). Filmmakers ignore it (how many films about contemporary "relationships" focus on a strong, happy, dynamic marriage?). And lawmakers all around the country seem to be working to make it irrelevant.

But it isn't, nor can it ever be. If there are imperfect marriages, it is only because all marriages include imperfect people. Marriage itself is a solution, not a problem. It is the foundation upon which we build a family, and the family is the foundation upon which we build civilized society. The

commitment of one person to another through marriage is more than just a piece of paper or a ring. It is a statement of belief in the future, and a public proclamation of allegiance to something greater than self -- to our children, our children's children and to the world in which they will live.

Of course, none of this really matters to Mike right now. All he knows is that he loves Amy, and that he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. And for now, that's enough.

At least, it's enough to make him nervous.

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--- (c) Joseph Walker

 

Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.