My heart has been gripped by a love story that happened during the Hungarian Uprising in the 1950s.
There was a young couple who had only been married for a couple of years. They were newlywed sweethearts in the age of the Cold War, and they decided to flee Hungary in a revolt against communist slavery and Russian control.
They could not flee together, only apart, because if they were found together, they would be charged as co-conspirators. The penalty for conspiring was far greater than fleeing of one’s own accord, so they planned their escape separately.
She would leave in the cold of the night, along with her mother. Five days later, he would follow the same steps, and the plan was to meet in a safe city on the far side of Yugoslavia.
But at the border, she and her mother were caught by border officials. They were sent to a prison camp – not a death camp, but a prison nonetheless. They were held captive against their will.
The young bride was despondent with the discovery that she would never see her husband again. She walked the fence, pacing and weeping, her life over as she knew it. A guard took pity on her and passed a note through the fence, asking how he may help her.
She took the note back to her own barracks, and she wrote a reply. She told him, My husband is in the safe city. He waits for me, but he does not know where I am. Please tell him I have been captured. Please tell him where I am.
The next day, she walked the fence in the same place at the same hour. The guard met her there again, and this time she passed the note to him. She had no way of knowing if he could help her, would help her, or if anything would come of her marriage in this day before long distance communication – let alone within a prison.
Somehow, some way, the guard delivered the word to the young husband. And at the first word of his bride’s capture, he left his own safety to return to the Hungarian border. He turned himself in. He chose a prison camp instead of a sanctuary, shackles instead of freedom, because he loved her. She was his definition of life, and he wanted life.
My heart groans when I imagine the reunion, the two of them together as prisoners in a home that wasn’t their own.
You may or may not have met my husband. Four years into my life without him, fewer and fewer people know him. Knew him.
Let me tell you, he loved me fiercely. And he would have done anything in the world for me. Anything.
Okay, he wouldn’t turn off baseball to watch yet another episode of Friends. He wouldn’t let me wear his Ohio State sweatshirt, a conviction that has led me to feel like I’m still violating some great marital code when I wrap up in it to this day. He wouldn’t eat onions. And he wouldn’t join the occult of Apple iProducts. But he did spend more than a decade eating pan-crust pizza when he really preferred thin crust. And that isn’t nothing.
Robb was rigid in many ways. And sometimes I felt suffocated in a boned corset of cherished love. He held me tightly. His convictions were fierce, and he did not step back from them. Ever.
I listened to the story of the Hungarian refugees, and I began to weep. I didn’t cry over their story, although it is worth crying over. I cried over my own story because I knew that I knew that if he were faced with the same decision, Robb would have relinquished his freedom and become a prisoner of war if it meant life with me.
And then I realized that the parallels are many even now, given where he is and where I am. He is in the city of safety; his bride has been left behind. He cannot come back for me, but I know that he would. I know because I watched him try. In the moments when his light was fading, he lost consciousness but then he fought to see me again. He didn’t go without a fight.
Of course, the parallels are not perfect. Robb knows where I am. And he knows I’m coming, and that I am teaching our children the same map to the destination we’ve agreed upon. I know he knows I’m coming. And I hope he thinks of me every day.
Sometimes, in my honest moments of greatest truth, I have asked Jesus to forgive me because he is not the first one I long to see when I get there. But, as I’ve confessed to God, it’s only because I don’t know how to want what I have never had.
I have never known eye contact with Jesus. I don’t know what his eyes look like when he’s listening. I don’t know the sound of his laughter. I don’t know the feel of his cheek or the sound of his heartbeat as he is holding me. I don’t know what his love feels like.
I know Robb. I knew him, know him, and continue to learn him. His absence is a very real, palpable, emptiness. I only know what I know, and my heart aches and breaks again because this story is still so very mine.
Jesus, may you continue to give me grace to know you more, to believe you are as real as the man who held my hand. It is not lost on me that You are the One who truly left the city of safety, who chose prison and shackles, because you loved me that much.