God does move in ways hidden and mysterious. Just as I was at the point of turning loose of what C.S. Lewis called the Tao - the traditions and moral teaching of the elders (which included due diligence in the area of religion) - God ambushed me with the Natural Law. That is, I fell in love and got married. I was twenty-one.
But allow me to back up a little. I had, by then, a couple of years of college behind me, but had dropped out after having my heart broken (alas!). Completely off my pins and not knowing what I wanted to do, I decided to re-trace my steps and travel back to Alaska and try my luck as a bachelor and working man. I hated it. I had made a few close friends during my last semester of school and missed them more than I had thought I would. I had a hard time making friends working in construction seventy hours a week, and figured out pretty quickly that I preferred college to laying sewer pipe.
I felt, again, that circumstances were closing in around me and that the longer I remained in that position (because of family ties to the construction job), the harder it would be to change course. I don't think I was ever really committed to living that life. I had an apartment, but never bought furniture (though I could have). I had one beanbag chair, and a rickety little bookshelf for my stereo. That was it. I didn't even have a bed, but slept in a sleeping bag on the floor. It strikes me as I write that furniture would have been a powerful symbol of permanence and commitment that I didn't want. Instead, I bought a motorcycle - the ultimate expression of carefree, youthful freedom (and irresponsibility).
So after several months I bailed rather suddenly on my construction gig and took a job in a restaurant kitchen at half the pay, just until I saved enough for a plane ticket back to Arkansas. I waffled on actually going back to college, and often entertained the idea of just drifting. Really. At the age of twenty! In all my teenage years, as I imagined my future self and the life I would lead, somehow I never pictured being married. Not that I was against the idea, it's just that I had always seen myself pretty much on my own. God knows what my life would have been like had I really gone down that path. It was a very real possibility.
But I'll never know. I arrived back in Arkansas in the middle of a school term, and went to seek out my old friends. I found them alright - playing Dungeons and Dragons in one of our old haunts (yes, we were all geeks and misfits of one kind or another)... and there was much rejoicing. Having no classes to worry about, I was free to party, which I did. All in all a pretty useless existence, and in truth I was dangerously close to a life of total dissipation. Completely directionless.
Then one day in the cafeteria, a new face turned up at our table. Small, very cute, long nut-brown hair and big, shimmering hazel-green eyes, a quick and quirky wit... if you like that kind of thing. I liked that kind of thing. She was the roommate of the girlfriend of a friend I met through another friend whom I met by literally bumping into him in the dark one night walking to the store. God works in mysterious ways, as I said. In fact, I had one more important friendship (the only lasting one of the lot) that would yet come from that social mix, one that would later change my life again.
The brown-haired girl turned up again at a party, we fell madly in love and pretty much still are. We married three months later because we couldn't stand the thought of being apart for the summer. Twenty-six years, it's been. The importance of our marriage in rescuing me from myself simply can't be overstated. I had found someone else to care about, someone I didn't want to disappoint, who I wanted to take care of. She took me out of myself, which was no small task. I went back to college and really worked at it. We made a household. I finally started to grow up. In all this I had never yet suspected the hand of God. It never occurred to me that He made marriage partly so that idiotic boys like me could start to become men - real men, made in His image. "It is not good for man to be alone".
We were neither of us very religious, but we also weren't ready to simply jettison all the moral underpinnings on which we had been raised. For instance, we opted to get married quickly because we both found the idea of living together repugnant. We considered ourselves more morally sophisticated than our parents, but the whole "shacking up" thing just felt... seedy. It was fine for other people, but our love wasn't like that. We were reverse hypocrites.
Oddly enough, after a while, treating Sunday like any other day didn't feel right, either. Something was missing.