Thursday, July 4, 2013

Lord of the Ring

As it is about a week before our wedding anniversary, I thought it would be fitting to share the story of how my husband lost his wedding ring at the bottom of a lake. 

This was not the first time the ring had slipped off my husband's finger. It happened another time while he was mowing the lawn at my mother-in-law's house. As he was clearing the grass clippings from the lawnmower it literally flew off his finger and landed in a pile of leafy debris. It took two days, a metal detector, and a determined couple to find it.
This time caused us to lose hope more quickly, because the circumstances were much more challenging. We had decided to beat the summer heat by spending a day at a lake near my parents' house.  My husband was playing in the water with our twin daughters, when suddenly he looked up at me sitting on the sand and called my name. "Hey Kim." I knew right away something was wrong.  It wasn't a panicked tone that might be shouted if the kids had harmed themselves, but it was urgent nonetheless. He spoke firmly and seriously. "My wedding ring just fell off my finger." I got up and calmly walked to the water's edge. The girls continued to splash around. I expected Greg to pop up from his crouched position and announce nonchalantly, "Never mind, I got it," but after a few minutes I got that same sinking feeling as the lawnmower instance. Together we crouched down and felt the soft lake bottom.  There were lots of pebbles, but nothing perfectly round. The sun's reflection on the water drew my attention to certain shiny little objects, but upon closer inspection they were merely more rocks and pebbles, and perhaps a few empty freshwater mussel shells. We took turns diving, but without goggles the murky bottom was too foggy to spot such a small object. Our determination waned as time went on. When we noticed some thunderstorm clouds moving in, and the beginnings of sunburn on the kids' backs, we called it quits. 

There was a breadth of emotion that ran through my head as we retreated, defeated, to the minivan.  Intense frustration that we couldn't find it.  Disappointment that we had given up.  A little bit of incredulity that the ring had disappeared so quickly and easily and yet its retrieval had proven to be maddeningly elusive.  And even a little shame that we had spent so much of our time, as well as our children's time, searching for an object.  After all, a ring is nothing more than shiny metal object, a mere symbol....right?

The next day (Wednesday) was overcast and cool.  We returned to the lake with our secret weapon: two roofing magnets from a local hardware store.  The kids were happy to be back at the lake despite the weather, and in a hopeful mood, we took turns watching them and using the magnets.  My dad came along too.  I brought along a snorkel and searched underwater while Greg and my dad swept the lake bottom with the magnets.  I could see a lot better with the snorkel, but unfortunately the magnets did not pick up anything.  The girls were getting cold, so we left, defeated again.  During the kids' nap time we made phone calls to rent a metal detector, as we knew from experience how useful it was.  Surprisingly, they are not that easy to find, and we finally found a store that rented them two towns away. 

Day 2.  Metal detector in hand.  My dad came along again.  We knew it had worked when we had lost the ring in the grass clippings, but we were a bit skeptical that the detector would function properly in waist-deep water.  This time I sat in the car with the kids, hoping the metal detector would beep crazily within the first 10 minutes of the search.  I said a rosary with fervor.  Thank goodness for the DVD feature in the minivan, and the Curious George series, which kept the twins occupied while baby Gregory napped.  When we had exhausted the DVD, and little Gregory awoke restlessly I allowed the kids to get out and we all ran to the sand.  Any hopes of finding the ring were dashed when I observed Greg and my dad hitting the box on the metal detector.  The thing must have short-circuited in the water.  "Just try it again with this coin on the sand," I offered.  It beeped as Greg passed it over the coin, but when he held the detector straight up in the air and it beeped incessantly at the sticky, humid air, I admitted that it was wasting our time.  The thing was busted, and it was back to making phone calls to find another metal detector.  My dad tried to be encouraging.  "It will be found, eventually, it has to show up..." but before he could finish Greg interrupted and announced, "OH, it WILL be found.  If I have to spend all day in the lake tomorrow, I WILL find that ring."

Day 3.  Greg finally found a metal detector at a different rental shop 30 minutes away.  That meant an hour driving before even venturing into the lake.  The weather had deteriorated with each passing day, just as our hopes of finding the ring faded in the thickening fog.  Since the temperature was significantly cooler, I had made lunch plans, and I would bring the kids with me.  Greg was at a point where he wanted to go by himself and battle the difficult conditions and get that darned ring once and for all.  Perhaps it was a bit of brooding, perhaps a type of self-imposed penance, but he expressed his "no-MY-do-it" attitude enough that my father and I knew to leave him alone.*  I think Greg was ready to drain the lake, if he could. 

Greg equipped himself for battle.  He bought duct tape and some Ziploc bags to cover the electronics of the metal detector and prevent water damage.  He bought an entire sand toy deluxe set, complete with plastic buckets, shovels, sifters, and scoopers.  Before he drove off to the lake, I gave him a hopeful hug and good-luck kiss befitting a knight off to slay a dragon.  He gave me a knowing nod.  This will be the day.

I nervously fidgeted all morning.  I watched the fog grow thicker, and my heart sank when I heard raindrops outside.  It was a cold day to be in the water.  After a few hours I dismissed the no-MY-do-it decree and decided to drive to the lake.  The drama of the situation had led me to believe that my husband must be suffering from hypothermia.  I simply HAD to go see him, and bring him some Dunkin' Donuts hot chocolate and dry clothes.  I got in the car, and had just put it in reverse, when the cell phone rang.  I took a deep gulp.  This is it.  It's either good news or bad news. 

"Hab's gefunden."  (German for FOUND IT.) 

Oh, the wave of relief!

Greg gave a quick synopsis of the find: he had walked into the lake with the metal detector, and almost immediately it had started beeping.  With a ridiculous plastic sand scooper toy, shaped like a lobster, he scooped up a handful of sand and the ring was right there, laying in the middle of the plastic claws.  The search had lasted a whole 45 seconds.  Thank God!

So now that the ring is found, I am stuck with my initial question: should we have spent so much time and effort to find it?  Is it merely a symbol?  Some might roll their eyes at this story and its level of absurdity.  And yet, if the ring is simply a symbol, what does it say if we were to give up our search early and simply buy a replacement?  We live in such a consumerist culture that dictates to quickly replace a lost or damaged item.  Isn't that mentality of "just-buy-a-new-one" the very reason why marriage in today's culture is so plagued? 

Greg's ring is made of titanium with gold in the middle to match my gold wedding band.  We chose titanium for him not only because of its masculine look but also its durability (and if you know my husband, this quality in a metal is a worthy consideration).  A handsome-looking ring that's rugged; poetic and practical.  I placed this ring on my husband's finger while pledging my lifelong fidelity to him in front of a crowd of family and friends.  It was there when we went snorkeling in the Florida Keys for our honeymoon.  It was there when we signed the papers to buy our first house...and when we sold it.  It was there when I cried in my husband's arms after not getting a particular job offer.  It was there lifting heavy furniture when we moved three three different states.  It was there when all three of our children were born.  And the big moments of our marriage aside, it has also been there for all the happy holidays, the angry arguments, and the mundane, routine days in between.  The tenacity and determination of my husband to find this inanimate object symbolizes to me the stubbornness and ferocity married couples, including ourselves, must express in order to protect and guard their marriage.  And I also consider that stupid made-in-China plastic sand toy, the ultimate tool of ring retrieval, as a symbol of the goofy, seemingly insignificant moments that have become the dearest memories to no one else but us.  Because those endearing memories remind us of the true value of our marriage, no matter how murky the waters we sometimes find ourselves.   

Happy anniversary, babe.  Now let's go get that ring re-sized.

*"No, MY do it" is a classic Margaret quote.  Her budding independence is exciting to watch, but also requires a large amount of patience when, say, trying to get her shoes on when we need to get in the car and we are already late.  She WILL stiff-arm you if you try to step in and help. 

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