My wife and I moved to Wilmington, Delaware six months after our wedding. Judy worked at Dupont’s Experimental Station. Armed guards at the entrance only raised the gate after closely inspecting employee IDs. They also conducted spot searches of cars leaving the grounds. A tall fence topped by barbed wire surrounded the compound of brick buildings. White precipitates billowed out of tall chimneys and fell in soft flakes like snow. The company posted “No Smoking” signs everywhere–flammable and explosive experiments were underway.
Angry, status obsessed and pointlessly aggressive people dominated the city, and hostile encounters while driving, shopping, and dealing with service desk clerks became part of our weekly routine. Judy and I escaped whenever possible to a nature preserve or park.
We drove one day to a strip of woods on the outskirts of town. The Brandywine River divided the park in half, and we found a spot to rest along a bank near the edge of a low dam. A flock of ducks escorted a small group of ducklings as they floated down the stream toward us. They came to a stop at the edge of the dam.
The ducks and drakes dipped over one by one, fell two feet, disappeared underwater, and popped up four feet downstream. They turned to the ducklings, flapped their wings and quacked. “Follow us!” they seemed to say.
Four out of the five ducklings complied. They hesitated, swam back and forth along the edge, but soon took the plunge. But one couldn’t muster enough courage. He swam in circles near the edge, came close to taking the dive, but backed off at the last second each time.
The flock squawked, quacked and flapped at the lone duckling, but Junior wanted no part. One duck flew back, demonstrated the task once more, but the stubborn duckling refused to budge.
The ducks and drakes resorted to tough love: they turned their backs on the last duckling and swam downriver. Junior swam in faster and faster circles as the flock drew farther and farther away. When fear of abandonment exceeded fear of drowning, he finally tipped over the edge.
When he resurfaced, he found himself once again in good company. The flock rushed back to greet him with quacks and wing flaps, and the little guy swam along with his head held high as they resumed their journey down the Brandywine River.
Judy left Dupont a year later and took a post doc position at Penn State. I stayed in Delaware to finish my second year of grad school. We met on weekends and phoned every day. Our acquaintances warned us that our marriage would suffer from the separation, but we took the risk and did our best.
We faced many tough decisions in the next few years and sometimes hesitated before making a move. But we knew in the end that there are times when we had to take a plunge while hoping that we would pop up safe and sound on the other side.
Judy and I made difficult decisions over the next few years. We chose to spend nine months apart while I finished my degree. We began a family during uncertain financial times. We bought a house before Judy had qualified for tenure as a professor at Rollins College. We knew the risks and the