The rock that flows

The flow of phyllite. Harpers Ferry, March 2023.

The ghost sign on the face of Maryland Heights, visible when you're standing in the historic town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, read "Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder." Not a very elegant product to grace a cliff, I thought as I sipped my smoothie at an outdoor cafe and gazed across the Potomac River at the fading letters. The juxtaposition of natural grandeur with stark consumerism both amused and exasperated me. What uniquely human hubris to say, "Why yes, the best use of our time and effort right now is to climb this ancient mountain, blast its side off, and put the name of a toiletry on it in paint that won't ever wash off."

An hour or so earlier, my husband and I had been standing above that sign, having hiked up the Maryland Heights Trail to join fellow tourists in their overlooking and selfie-taking. Now, we were back in town to rest and refuel—an objective overall for a much-needed weekend away from our children. (Thank you, grandparents!) To have the space and time to wander uphill, drink smoothies, and stare at rocks was the epitome of luxury, a forgotten pleasure reclaimed. For once we didn't have to move from logistic to logistic; we could simply enjoy existing and going with the flow.

At another point in our rambles around the historic site, we visited the Jefferson Rock landmark. Not impressed by the pile of shale where Thomas Jefferson once stood, I instead found myself enchanted by the rippling, silvery phyllite beneath my feet. If I hadn't known differently, I would have sworn I was standing in wet sand at the ocean's edge, that's how flowing the rock appeared. As Nature Boy poked around the site spouting geologic facts, I tried to capture the arresting image with my phone camera, and, failing to do so in a way that matched my mind's eye, chose to commit it to memory instead.

Here's what I'm trying to say about these rocks, and through them, about our weekend away. Parenting is a meaningful vocation, but man, can it be tough on a marriage. It's the relational equivalent of someone blasting off your beautiful ancient face and painting an unremovable sign for talcum powder on it. But occasionally you have the opportunity to recall the greater forces always at work within you as individuals and as a unit: passion, awe, surprise, respect, resilience, growth. Just like the gradual geologic pressure making the phyllite flow, so too are we the couple constantly shaped and formed by subtle changes beyond our perception. We are each other's bedrock and signpost alike, anchoring each other while pointing the way forward.

The rock proclaims and the rock flows. How vital to remember that nothing is truly immovable, nothing is really unchangeable—marriage included.

Prayer #387: About-face

"Eager to eradicate the sign, PATC [Potomac Appalachian Trail Club] volunteers scaled the cliff and attacked the old sign with paint remover and carbon black. However, only four years later the sign was visible once again and has since been left alone." — Harpers Ferry website

How permanent is change?

How taut is the stretch, how deep is the scrape, how dark is the stain? Do we view ourselves as marred or cured—a lesser or greater version of what we think we were meant to be? Can both states be true? Can neither?

Be we blasted, be we scrubbed, be we nicked or traced or brightened, grant us views long and wide. Lead us to overlooks that lend perspective. Let us look back at the bridge we crossed, the hill we climbed, the path we forged, and let us absorb the discovery that resting enables. In our movement we feel our changes; in our pauses we bless them.