Our fingers intertwined as the tires of his lumbering Ford F-150 thundered along the serpentine asphalt of Highway 1.

My eyes wandered to the west, to the fathomless depths of the Pacific Ocean. A blanket of gray fog clouded the atmosphere and the waves reflected pastels and wild greens instead of the glittering blue of clear skies.

It had been a long time since I had traveled this way, through the coniferous veil of Big Sur and the mists of the California coast. I must have been twelve or thirteen. My cousin Rachel had gotten married somewhere in the shadows of the forest floor. My uncle played the trumpet, and I remember waiting impatiently for food in the buffet line.

He and I had never made this trek together. For us, this was uncharted territory. My cartographer heart couldn’t help but wonder if we would soon be trailblazing another path—a path that always seemed to be not quite, but almost on the horizon.

Six years. In this fistful of time we had left love notes in lockers, anxiously awaited SAT results, tossed high school graduation caps in the air, studied all night for college classes, endured a semester separated by the Atlantic Ocean, earned bachelor degrees (plus one teaching credential), and secured bonafide “adult” jobs. All this to say, we grew up together. We are still growing up together.

As I sat there with my hand in his, I reflected on the announcements that had poured in from our friends over the weekend. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday…Each of these days had ended with a nerve-testing, heart-pumping question and the same excitedly flushed answer. Four newly-engaged couples. And us.

When are you two getting engaged?

Aren’t you guys married already?

What’s taking him so long?

A barrage of questions from childhood friends, distant relatives, and even professors. Inquiring minds want to know. Mine was no exception.

It wasn’t like we hadn’t talked about the progression of our relationship. We had dreamed the gilded dreams of countless tomorrows, tossing hopeful coins into the wishing well of time. The hand that I held as a teenager was the same hand I held today as a woman of 22, and I intended to keep it that way for as long as life would allow. This was natural.

I watched the waves return again and again to the shore of the winding cliff, spilling lacy ripples over the sand. They knew more about repetition than progress, I supposed. So did I.

But waves also know about engagement. They lap relentlessly at the craggy cliff, eroding the integrity of age-old rock and sediment. The moon and its Creator signal their surging; I’m a humble observer of their commitment to this call.

My thumb drew swirls on the top of his hand as I thought of this spiral progression. There is beauty now, here in this moment—with him. His eyes found mine for a quick, stolen moment. A sliver of life lived fully. This is true engagement—not a ring. Not a bent knee. Not a popped question. Perhaps engagement means active presence—being engaged in the myriad adventures of life with your traveling companion.

I leaned away from the window and over the truck’s center console, kissing the earthy fabric of his cheek. Here was my traveling companion on Highway 1 and in life. He would ask me that famous question one day. I was sure of it.

But right there and right then—eyes open and hand in his—I chose to be engaged.

Hannah was born and cultivated in Santa Barbara, California, where she continues to find herself. She naturally feels most at home with a pen in her hand, a paintbrush in the other, and sand between her toes. After devouring countless books and cups of tea as an English major at Westmont College, she became a teacher (partly so that she could continue to fuel her literary addiction). She currently teaches literature and logic to bright minds at a local charter school and is now officially engaged to her high school sweetheart.