Once upon a summertime, my husband and I adopted a hippo.
We were newlyweds attending a riverside reception when the rays of a gorgeous June sunset ushered us toward the wedding favor table. On it sat a basket containing small earthen animals that the bride had collected while serving as a missionary in Africa. My husband left the choice to me and I settled on a tiny green hippo with an angular nose and beady black eyes. I decided he must be a boy.
I’m not sure what drew me to him; after all, real life hippos are huge, awkward-looking, and somewhat aggressive. Even fictional hippos (think Tasha from The Backyardigans) are grumpy at best. But we brought him home, and since that day he has done things and gone places beyond what most hippos could even imagine.
His purpose came as a surprise even to me. One ordinary morning as I was making the bed, I noticed him sitting there, lonely, on his usual place on our bookshelf. I snatched him up and gingerly relocated him on top of the book my husband had been reading and left overturned on our nightstand.
I’d forgotten all about the random act of spontaneity until that night when the hubs yelled from the bedroom, “What exactly is Mr. Hippo trying to tell me?” My response came automatically: “It’s the love hippo!” A gentle chuckle followed. Mutual understanding. The Love Hippo was born.
Although our tiny emerald-colored creature spends most days in pleasant repose on our shelf, he stands ready to help when needed.
Sometimes he serves as the silent mediator after an argument. A symbol of truce, he quietly paves the way for forgiveness when one of us musters up enough humility to place him on the bathroom sink or bedroom dresser. Common ground.
Other times, he’s charged with hiding undercover until bedtime when, once discovered, will whisper sweet amorous nothings on the conspiratorial lover’s behalf.
He stays up late so my husband doesn’t have to and faithfully waits by my toothbrush, bidding me sweet dreams on those nights the kids don’t comply with the bedtime routine.
He has frequented lunch boxes, coat pockets, and drawers, as well as willingly hidden (bless his heart) under pillows, underwear, and stacks of paper. He has both accompanied love notes and embodied the messages themselves. He calls out our crap, rouses a smile, eases regret, and reminds us to pray for one another. Without uttering a word, he conveys love.
Sometimes he reminds me of things that are hard to stomach, but soften the heart. During moments of marital tension, I’ve noticed his stillness, his stare—as if he’s trying to tell me to stop burying myself in resentment and to imagine burying my husband instead: a convincing perspective from a hippo that has been around us long enough to know we’re deeply in love, stupid spats notwithstanding. And if all the petty irritations he’s witnessed have yet to compel him to jump off the shelf, then we should be willing to stick it out, too.
I heard once that the longer a couple is married, the less they need to talk. They reach the point of knowing each other so intimately that eventually, words become mostly superfluous.
I believe there’s some truth to this, because life as a newlywed is all about adjustment and details and best attempts at bliss. However, even though the flirtatiousness and frequency of conversations with our spouse may diminish with each anniversary that accrues, the need for clear, loving communication does not.
And maybe it’s silly to prevail upon an inanimate object to bridge the gap when emotions overrule reason and words fail to come; maybe it’s even kind of weird.
But then again, maybe not. Maybe we can all use a little love hippo in our lives.