Maybe instead of sadness, it’s fatigue from growing. | “The Water is Wide”

Our theme this month is water.

This week we went to Wirth Lake to swim. Today Nathan took all the kids to a reservoir in Roseville. A couple days ago we got a deluge, and today some more sprinkles.

Water is life.

There is something transportive in gazing over water – something therapeutic about being in the presence of the beauty and majesty of a body of water.

There is mystery.
There is invitation.
There is presence of something immensely more powerful than I am.

And to think that there is an entire ecosystem living underneath. How is that even possible?

“The Water is Wide” is a favored Scottish folk song that has traveled the world for over a hundred years.

There’s no denying that the tone of the writing is rather sad. Releasing a sad song about failed relationships does not seem like the wisest of choices for a couple of so-called lovebirds trying to convincingly do music/business/parenting/life together.

However, below I suggest to you an interpretation that infuses a hopeful context not immediately obvious.

First, a tiny bit of background:

When we were friends, and I would do that thing girls do – you know, think through all the guys I knew, in order to evaluate if any of them made good husband material – I always thought, “No, not Nathan. He’s great as a best friend for now, but marriage? No. I wouldn’t want to have be the emotionally stable one.”

No joke. It’s not that he was an emotional roller coaster; he was just… really connected with his feelings. He wore his heart on his sleeve and was not ashamed to say lovely things about the people and world around him.

At the time, I had a bent to see that as weakness. I was even-tempered, no-nonsense, and – my favorite back then – “mysterious.”

Somewhere along the line I decided to give him a chance. More on that some other time.

The hilarious (yet not really funny at all) reality is that throughout our relationship, my “stability” turned out to actually be just stoicism and inability to connect with my own feelings. This in turn unraveled into wrecks of spiritual and emotional confusion that rocked our world.

Like row-boat-on-a-stormy-sea kind of rocked.

And he has been nothing but patient, loving me unconditionally through it all, even when that has meant doctor visits, pastor visits, emergency babysitter visits, and dropping all plans to have a much-needed lakeside visit.

The text of this week’s song runs parallel to some beautiful truths about our marriage. Below are the verses from “The Water is Wide,” with my thoughts inserted along the way.

(click to listen along)

The water is wide, I cannot cross o’er
And neither have I, the wings to fly.
Build me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my true love and I.

There have been times when the future in front of us has felt completely too wide to cross. Most certainly too wide to traverse alone.

Nathan has been by my side through it all, in this odd dilapidated love boat of ours. (Or, rather, in the eleven houses we have lived in together so far.)

A ship there is and she sails the sea
She’s laden deep, as deep can be.
But not so deep as the love I’m in,
And I know not if I sink or swim.

I was burdened heavy, heavy with depression and unhealthy thinking.

He was in it for the long haul, even if it hauled us through a life far from any of the fun crazy things we imagined.

I leaned my back up against an oak,
Thinking ‘twere a trusty tree.
But first it bent and then it broke,
Thus did my love prove false to me.

He didn’t really know what he was getting himself into.

He knew I had times of being really withdrawn, but as most couples do, we probably thought it would be all different – and of course better – when we were off on our own, getting a fresh start together.

That’s not how it played out.

Our love has not “proved false,” but it has definitely proved to be something of a completely different nature than expected. The falseness was less in our relating to each other, than it was in relating to ourselves. We each have had to relearn what we value, what we believe, and what we deeply desire.

O love is handsome and love is kind,
Bright as a jewel when first it’s new
But love grows old and waxes cold,
And fades away like morning dew.

Handsome. Check.

The text implies a dying, disappearing, a jilting of love.

I submit a different thought.

It grows old, full of wisdom and slow depth of knowingness that young love can’t hold a candle to. Obviously, at a mere 13 years into this whole marriage thing, I’m not speaking from a wealth of experience, but we watch others closely, and read, and mine for stories of rich long love.

Does ‘love waxing cold’ mean only stale age?

I submit a different perspective – one that sees coolness as a phase of growth and a cycle toward health.

Like the cool of a beautiful summer evening that leads to the dew of the early summer morning. The dew doesn’t fade away into nonexistence. It returns to the air. It soaks into the ground. Some species of plants rely on dew.

I think some seasons of love rely on dew – the slow drip of grace after stretches of chill, the glistening sheen of refreshment in preparation for another heat wave.

Sure, this is a wistful tune with a somber edge, and one can spin it that way as needed.

But maybe it isn’t all that sad. It’s just tired, and reminiscing about the unexpectedness of the journey.


May your love be wide and long, may your storms build strength and truth, may your grace absorb in the measure you need, and may the coolness of the nights slowly give way to new light and life.