Below the Surface: The Greatest Thing in the World

True love in any of its forms never comes easy.

Published online: Feb 03, 2019 News
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This column appears in the February issue of Sugar Producer.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be a guest at the wedding of one of my nieces. As they tend to be, this wedding was a blessed, joyous event, particularly because I had nothing to do with its planning or execution. My job was simply to show up, smile in a few pictures, make a fool of myself on the dance floor, and BS a little bit with some family members I hadn’t seen in a while. 

One of my favorite moments of the entire celebration came at the reception, when the father of the bride stood up to give his toast to the beaming couple. He spoke for a couple minutes about how much he loved his daughter, how proud he was of the young woman she had grown into, and how happy he was that she had found such a good man to spend her forever with. He concluded with some sage advice, which, while I’m not quoting directly, went something like this:

“You think you’re in love now? Just wait. Up until now, falling in love has been easy. But real, lasting, true love is forged when things get hard, when life gets messy, when you have to fight tooth and nail, side by side, to keep chasing your dreams. You think you’re in love right now? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

I won’t lie to you, fellers; it brought tears to my eyes. Just a couple strong, manly tears, mind you—but tears nonetheless. It was a stunningly profound and beautiful way for a daddy to bestow his blessing on his little girl’s future. To anyone actually paying attention, it was a lesson for the kids and a reminder for those more seasoned in life of what happiness—real, lasting, undying happiness—is actually made of.

One of the greatest love stories ever told, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, summarizes itself in its opening pages thusly:

“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”

True love is in there, and, to be sure, it is the ultimate goal that percolates throughout the entire tale. But to attain true love, truths and miracles, our heroes must endure hate, lies and even death.

It’s a simple reality that life isn’t always fair. Sometimes hail wrecks an entire year’s crop. Sometimes half the cellar is infected with soft rot before you know what’s hit you. Sometimes it’s more profitable to plow a field under in June rather than keep pouring money into a crop you won’t be able to sell.

Love is many things, none of them logical.

            —William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Sometimes Dad has a heart attack and his son has to come back to the farm years before he planned to, if he planned to at all. Sometimes Mom and Dad can’t convince the kids to come back to the farm, and they have to find it in their hearts to be proud of them anyway. Sometimes what’s best for the kids is for Mom and Dad to sell the farm. And sometimes, the kids you always dreamed of teaching to drive a tractor and move hand lines simply never come.

Before happily ever after, there’s always a bit of crisis. Cinderella’s coach turned back into a pumpkin at midnight. Snow White bit into the apple. Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on the spinning wheel and slept for a century. Rocky was on the verge of homelessness, and his big chance involved nearly being pummeled to death by Apollo Creed.

Tractors get stuck. Pivots break down. Rains come late. Snows come early. Late blight floats in on the wind. Markets sag. Families disappoint.    

But every once in a while, the sun shines and the clouds rain precisely when they’re supposed to, and it seems like you can plow a thousand acres without hitting a single rock. On those rare (though not as rare as we like to tell ourselves) occasions when everything seems to go right, all the heartache and pain and disappointment manifests itself for what it is: a crooked, bumpy, sure path to this moment of contentment. It doesn’t matter if the love we’re talking about is a dazzling romance, a parent’s incomparable devotion to a child, or a profound love of the land your family has worked for generations. If it’s real, it dang sure ain’t easy.

If you hold on, though, the slipper will, sooner or later, fit.