Monday, February 14, 2011

Wife Rule #152: It Is Enough

I listened on the radio for a few minutes yesterday as a talk-show host began to offer his perspective on love and romance. Shortly afterwards was one of a hundred jewelry commercials that hit the airwaves leading up to Valentine's Day. You know them: "Show her you love her with a diamond pendant." "Give the gift that is as everlasting as your love." "Be romantic. Buy diamonds." You've heard them all before.

These relentless messages did succeed in getting me thinking: after nearly 13 years of marriage together, what is the state of our love? How do I define love and romance? Is she still the girl of my dreams? Is our love, sans-diamonds, enough?

From the immortal wisdom of Joseph Stein's Fiddler on the Roof, lyricist Sheldon Harnick gives a perspective on these all-important questions between husband and wife. Reb Tevye and his wife Golde were the product of a marriage arranged by their parents, in the tradition of their people. They were poor dairy farmers in a small Russian town where their religion was persecuted. As their daughters begin to break the arranged-marriage tradition by falling in love first and asking for their parents' blessing on their choices afterwards, Tevye begins to ponder the real meaning of love. A tender, poignant duet springs from his simple question:

Do you love me?

Do I what?

Do you love me?

Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You're upset, you're worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it's indigestion

Golde, I'm asking you a question...
Do you love me?

You're a fool

I know...
But do you love me?

Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

Golde, The first time I met you
Was on our wedding day
I was scared

I was shy

I was nervous

So was I

But my father and my mother
Said we'd learn to love each other
And now I'm asking, Golde
Do you love me?

I'm your wife!

I know...
But do you love me?

Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I've lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that's not love, what is?

Then you love me?

I suppose I do.

And I suppose I love you too.

It doesn't change a thing
But even so,
After twenty-five years
It's nice to know.

My wife and I haven't been married for 25 years, but we're now officially over half way there. What is our love? We have six children. We have two cars, a home, and a big mortgage. We have piles of laundry and a sinkful of dishes. We have stress, worries, and problems. We've got a lot of stuff and by now, at least a little bit of history. So what is our love?

Our love is waking up every morning next to the same person. It is groggily falling out of bed and touching fingertips across the mattress while we say our individual prayers. It is sidling over to her side of the bed so we can clasp hands as we join together in couple prayer.

Our love is the simple act returning to the bedroom after breakfast and finding my toothbrush preloaded with paste and waiting on the counter for me. It is making the bed so it will look nice when she sees it next.

Our love is jointly gathering the children together to read from the scriptures and kneeling with them for morning family prayer. It is when a child has forgotten something during the daily rush off to school, and my wife says "I got it" so that my own tight schedule won't be further impacted. It is getting in the shower and finding that the soap has been replaced and that the towels have been washed and rehung.

Our love is when she brings the baby to me for a kiss so I don't have to cross the room on my way out the door. It is the kiss and the smile she gives me when I leave. It is the look she gives me when she says, "I'll miss you." It is my reply of mutual affection and the reluctance I feel each day as I back out of the driveway.

Our love is me calling at lunch, sometimes late, and her eagerness to fill me in on the happenings of the morning. It is when our conversation is short because neither of us has anything to report, but it's so good to hear her voice anyway.

Our love is my call before I leave work, asking if I can pick up anything on the way home. It is me mustering all the energy left in my depleted reserves so I can have something to give when I return. It is her dinner preparations and valiant efforts to enlist the children's help--mostly for their own good--in cleaning and setting the table. It is the anticipation I feel when opening the door. It is the look of mixed relief and joy when she sees me again.

Our love is the welcome kiss and the tightness of our arms wrapped around each other as we give a quick squeeze before getting back to work.

Our love is the fifteen minutes of down time in the recliner in a darkened room that she gives me on days when she can see that I need it. It is the fifteen minutes of "time out" that I help her take on days when I can see that she needs it.

Our love is quieting six energetic children just long enough to give a prayer of thanks for the food, and the sincere thanks for the preparer of the food when I offer it. It is her gentle reminder to rotate the assignment when I've called on the same person to pray four times in a row. It is the happy conversation that permeates the rest of the meal.

Our love is the mutual willingness to jump right into the post-dinner responsibilities: encouraging the kids in their chores, doing baths, reading books, and telling bedtime stories. It is appreciating the variety offered by the occasional show or board game or forgotten homework assignment that sometimes throws off the routine. It is the joint effort to corral kids who each have more residual energy than both of us combined, and convincing them to quiet down once more, for just a minute or two, for our nightly family prayer. It is helping the youngest ones say their own prayers and express prompted, but deserved, gratitude for Mommy and Daddy. It is kissing goodnight and tucking in together.

Our love is collapsing in a heap on the couch after the house is finally quiet.

Our love is finding a second wind at that time, to play a game or watch a show, or more often, to finally just talk without competition. It is the fading light of the evening and the soft lamp-glow that highlights her features. It is moving to the same couch after enjoying looking across at her face, so we can hold hands. It is her head finding rest on my shoulder. It is the smell of her hair and the warmth of her cheek.

Our love is seamlessly sharing one sink during our bedtime hygiene rituals. It is kneeling down, clasping hands, and huddling together as we pray over the events of the day and the vast and varied needs of loved ones, our children, and each other. It is heartfelt expressions of gratitude for marriage and the joyful life we share.

Our love continues as the lights are turned off and she cuddles up to me, resting her head on my shoulder as my arm wraps around her. It is the conversation taking off again because we've got more to say.

Our love is our talk of problems and solutions, of goals and dreams, of memories past and those we hope to make. It is lists of things to do and things we love. It is planning a life--a long life--together.

Our love is the merging of two people so completely that we become one. It is the complete blank that comes into my mind when I try to imagine life without her. It is realizing that she is an inseparable part of me, the best part I have. It is the realization that our union is, in fact, meant to be eternal. It is realizing the full weight of what that means and that we are both perfectly, completely content, and even excited, to spend the next million years together--and an eternity after that.

Our love is drifting off to sleep with the sound of her breathing in my ear and the warmth of her body next to me. It is the sweet, worry-free oblivion that comes in large part because I know it will all repeat in the morning, with her at my side.

And so we go on. We've done this love thing every day in more or less this same fashion nearly 5000 times. We'll do it 5000 more, and then a million times after that. We wouldn't have it any other way. It's life--our life--and it's beautiful.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, a prophet of God, expressed the love he felt for his wife in this simple, yet eloquent way:

"...if you will bear with me, I wish to exercise a personal privilege. Six months ago... I stated that my beloved companion of 67 years was seriously ill. She passed away two days later....

"My children and I were at her bedside as she slipped peacefully into eternity. As I held her hand and saw mortal life drain from her fingers, I confess I was overcome. Before I married her, she had been the girl of my dreams, to use the words of a song then popular. She was my dear companion for more than two-thirds of a century, my equal before the Lord, really my superior. And now in my old age, she has again become the girl of my dreams....

"I am grateful to be able to say that in our long life together I cannot remember a serious quarrel. Small differences occasionally, yes, but nothing of a serious nature. I believe our marriage has been as idyllic as anyone’s could possibly be.

"I recognize that many of you are similarly blessed, and I compliment you most warmly, for when all is said and done there is no association richer than the companionship of husband and wife, and nothing more portentous for good... than the unending consequences of marriage."

I have tasted the beauty, depth, and richness of that holy association he describes. My wife and I love each other; and that love, being exactly what it is today, is more than enough.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New Non-Wife-Rule Blog

I have consolidated my other blogging attempts into one catch-all non-Wife-Rules blog: Matt's Scratch Pad. I'll be adding stuff to it from time to time. It will probably remain a permanent resident in the header of this blog. I invite you to check it out.