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More Cowbell

by Henry O. Arnold

I read a quote from Swiss aeronaut Bertrand Piccard in a recent magazine article featuring his adventures as a balloonist. Piccard says, “An adventure is a crisis that you accept. A crisis is a possible adventure that you refuse, for fear of losing control.”

I’m one who likes adventures but mine are more earth-bound. Give me trails to hike, rivers to float, and rocks to climb. Kay, my wife, would choose flying thousands of feet up into the air in a wicker basket at the mercy of wind currents and tanks of helium. We might choose different individual adventures, but regarding the big adventure of our marriage (forty-three years and counting), regardless of the dangers and unexpected crisis, we have always chosen to stick it out together. If you want a successful marriage, I suggest not trying to control it. Accept the human condition of the mess of daily disasters and just enjoy the adventure.

Falling in love is easy. Making a good marriage is hard work. Soul mates are not discovered, they are created; they are fashioned and made through persevering together because you love each other. When asked how we have stayed together, my most recent answer would be, “more cowbell.” I promise to explain, but you have to keep reading.

A Star Wars analogy helps to explain our opposite personalities: she is the composed Yoda, calmly appraising situations and dispensing wise solutions. I am Han Solo who happens upon a discarded lightsaber, and after picking up the curious object, starts banging it on a rock and shouting, “How do you work this thing?” To which Kay responds with, “Just push the ‘on’ button,” followed by the roll of her pretty blue eyes.

Most of us have this deep desire to be in relationship, awkward and hurtful as it may be at times. God recognized the importance of being in healthy relationship after observing how lonely Adam felt—gainful employment and the company of exotic animals did not provide enough personal fulfillment—and voila, Eve was created in all her glory. The two humans fashioned in God’s image “became one flesh . . . naked and unashamed.” Human relationships provide the potential for great joy, deepening the mystery of our individual connections with meaning and pleasure. But too often we clothe ourselves in protective layers to keep from being vulnerable with one another; the consequence of our Eden ancestors tasting the “forbidden fruit.”

When “iron sharpens iron,” there are the inevitable sparks—sometimes sparks of romantic passion, sometimes sparks that can leave a painful mark. The potential for carnage and/or exquisite joy is always there. Lest you be deceived, we’ve experienced both extremes, and everything else in between, in the iron-sharpening business. As Sir Alan Patrick Herbert, a 20th century English writer, said, “The conception of two people living together for decades without having a cross word suggests a lack of spirit only to be admired in sheep.” And then there was “cowbell,” yea verily, “more cowbell.”

My latest iron-sharpening moment came on a recent visit to the village of Murren, Switzerland, accessible only by foot or gondola. As the sun descended behind the mountains, we were walking the path back to our lodging. We kept hearing these bells. Kay immediately said these were cow bells. The terrain was very steep, and I concluded it was too treacherous for cows to traverse. Goats maybe, but not cows. I was confident (well, almost confident) in my appraisal, and Kay was silent; our personalities on full display.

The next morning when we began our hike, what should be coming toward us on the path ahead but a small herd of cows, each one with a personalized bell around its neck. We had to laugh, of course, after my apology, of course. And to add to my shame, as we kept hiking, more and more cows appeared. Murren was full of cows. Chalets and private residences had cow bells decorating the entryways and front doors. Some almost big enough to fit into cathedral towers. Once again fissures in my certainty had appeared and opened up and swallowed me whole.

Like a Timex watch, our marriage keeps on ticking; a miracle Kay likes to point out. Not only can God fashion two human beings and create the majestic mountains that we were awed by, but He can also drop in “more cowbell” at any time to remind me that all of this life is an adventure and it’s best lived under His lordship. And I am fortunate enough to share this adventure with my life companion.

A story well told is what keeps Henry O. Arnold pursuing his dual careers as an actor and an author. Besides the experience with his father in Man of La Mancha, there are two other seminal moments in his life that have made all the difference: a commitment of faith to Jesus Christ and his marriage to Kay Patton in 1979. He has tried the patience and tested the mercy of both parties, but he has no intention of changing course.


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