Wednesday, October 9, 2013

For Better. For Worse. And For Sheep.

When we visited Oxford last weekend, we decided to stay out in the beautiful countryside, in a farmhouse B&B in the area known as The Cotswolds. It's so charming that you really expect to see Peter Rabbit popping out of a hedge. And let me tell you, those roads are so ludicrously narrow that the aforesaid hedges are very, very close. Peter beware! (And, as you'll soon see, it's not because they don't have space for wider roads.)

There's a story to go along with our stay at the farmhouse, but first I just wanted to show you a few photos. I promise I've edited these down.

At the farm:

LOTS of sheep!

On Sunday morning, we worshipped the Creator by taking a walk through some of His artwork in the fields. The Cotswolds are absolutely ribboned with footpaths, and all you have to do is ask someone who lives there where's the closest place to hop aboard. Or just go driving, find yourself a tiny village, park the car, and sniff out a trailhead. Like this.

It was the perfect morning for a ramble. We were told we'd see "loads of people" out for a Sunday walk. "Loads" is definitely relative. 

(Ian and I quickly discovered that wearing tennis shoes across dewy English fields is a non-brilliant idea. Caroline was the only one smart enough to wear wellies.)

We happened upon a tiny, medieval chapel that only holds services a few times a year anymore, but has a bell with an inviting rope pull. You realize that of course we had to ring the bell. 

Okay, so now I need to tell you a story. It's a love story, and for me a Kleenex story, and I hope I can find the right words. 

Like I said, the farmhouse where we stayed was a bed and breakfast. As you may know, when one stays at a B&B, one often finds oneself eating breakfast at a table with complete strangers, which is exactly where and how we found ourselves on Saturday morning. The cast: Our family of five, and an elderly couple who was en route from their home in Scotland  to a visit with a cousin in Devon (southern coast area). 

I'll be honest: I thought the breakfast hour would never end. The husband was perfectly courtly and pleasant. The wife? Not so much. She was cantankerous, made insulting comments about Scottish people (their neighbors), and helped herself to correcting my children on they were spreading the jam on their toast and where they placed their spoons on their tea saucers. Both the Professor and I could feel our blood pressure rising as we attempted polite conversation with the elderly gentleman while keeping one eye and ear on  the wife's interactions with Eliza, who happened to be sitting closest and was being quiet and nervous. 

Early in the conversation, when we heard where in Scotland these folks were from, we mentioned, by way of making a friendly connection, that we would be in that area around Christmastime. Imagine my discombobulation when as we wrapped things up, the husband suggested that he give us his contact info so that when we came to Scotland, we could arrange to stop by for a visit. Um, no. But we smiled and nodded and said something to the effect of that being a lovely idea. No. Not a lovely idea. 

I was putting my shoes on outside our room a few minutes later when, across the hall, I heard the wife ask the husband, twice in the space of about three minutes, what day it was. Faint understanding began to dawn. Then the husband opened the door of their room and offered me a folded piece of paper with a smile that said many things without words. He wished us well in our travels and told me he'd written down their address for us. We both said goodbye. 

I got into the car and opened the note. In his spidery scrawl, he'd written us a note, inviting us to come for a visit at Christmastime and to meet their grown daughter and her children: "Much easier going for you than my wife's extremism, which is down to her ongoing health problems." [British "down to" = American "due to."]

Friends, I could not hold back the tears. Irritation melted into compassion, as I wondered how many times that man had watched his aging wife embarrass herself and make other people uncomfortable, all because of the pain she carried -- pain I do not know (yet). Perhaps he had seen her become a much different, much unhappier person than the one he married. Yet he continued to care for her, to cover her by apologizing for her in the most discreet of ways. To him she was still the one he had chosen so many years ago and pledged to be faithful. 

For better. For worse. Until death do us part. Some people know the true depth of that promise, and I'm so grateful for those people.  


  1. Oh, Hannah. Thank you for writing this down. So much beauty in this sadness. The older I get, the more I'm starting to see that the two really are different sides of the same coin.

    Off to find my Kleenex now.

  2. Oh Hannah, I love this story (and your photos). Thank you for sharing.

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  4. Very sad but sweet story. Thanks for sharing. I also enjoyed being reminded of the area in your photos--I stayed near by in another B&B one weekend while I was in FTTL. It is very beautiful there! I hope you get to visit Winston Churchill's estate as well--I think you guys will find it very interesting. --Jessica

  5. Lovely.
    I'm so grateful for those people, too...

  6. Hannah, that is such a sweet beautiful story! Thank you so much for sharing and for reminding us that a vow is a promise to have and to hold forever; in sickness and in health; till death do us part.

  7. That really is encouraging. I struggle with debilitating health problems now, while I'm still young, and even in the face of all that my husband remains firm and true, despite any inconvenience it brings him. (He claims it's not much.) Their story does remind me that you never really know what kind of a battle someone else is fighting, so try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Although "She's super irritating because she's dealing with multiple invisible health problems that are affecting her memory and personality" probably isn't the first thing that jumps to most people's minds in a situation like that...

  8. it's so hard sometimes to be compassionate and empathetic when we don't know the whole story. i pray that we move through the world with grace and compassion, not knowing. what a wonderful reminder.

  9. I love this love story, and you discovered so unexpectedly. So glad you were able to capture it here in this excellent post (and the pictures are inviting!) He was sharing with you his story and used no words only kindness and compassion. Love his commitment to love his wife through all the ups and downs of marriage.

  10. This is so beautiful. Thank you for reminding me to be kind, and that things are not always as they seem. Everyone - EVERYONE - has a hidden story.

  11. beautiful in every way. a new favorite post.

  12. Thank you, Hannah. I love you, friend.