Shortly after Tim and I started dating at Wake Forest, he had to get his wisdom teeth pulled. I set myself up as his nurse, making sure he took his medicine on time and had plenty of soft food to eat. It was my pleasure to help him in his doped-up state, and I even bought his favorite pudding flavor-- pistachio. The little pistachio bits were not safe for him to eat, so I sifted through the powdery mix, picking out each one before preparing it, chilling it in the fridge, then feeding it to his adorable, grateful self.
Twenty-three years later, I am guessing that I would not jump at the chance to spare his gaping bloody tooth sockets from wayward pistachio slivers as I once did.
Why is that?
I think years of busy-ness and scorekeeping and nurturing the heck out of small children somehow leave little room for thoughtfulness for each other. I think people are generally wired selfishly, and each day is a struggle against a me-first attitude. And our culture leaves us asking every day, "What's in this for ME?" rather than "What can I do for others?" So when we feel spent, as we often do, we don't go around looking for ways to serve our spouse.
And before I get mean comments about what a terrible, horrible, no-good wife I am, I'd also venture to guess that the same guy who used to show up at my apartment window, rapping on the glass with a box of my favorite Little Debbie Swiss Cake rolls, also left the building quite a few years back.
The truth is, it's easy to forget about the little things that make our partners happy, especially as the years pass. But life really is about the little things, rather than the grand gestures, not that grand gestures now and then hurt.
As parents, we quickly learn what it's like to put someone else's needs above ours, and we are glad to do it. It springs from our deep well of love for our children. And as we pour ourselves into them, we have no guarantee that our efforts and love will come back to us in any measureable way. But we do it anyway. We can't score-keep in parenthood, because the scales would never be balanced, and we don't expect them to be. I don't mean to imply that parents don't need to nourish and take care of themselves, but that giving of ourselves to our children, although challenging, feels good, and right, and holy.
In marriage, however, we wonder if giving to our partner first will in some way diminish us and our claim for fairness or personhood or...something.
In the clunky yet thought-provoking movie Fireproof a few years back, I saw how one spouse lavished love and thoughtfulness on another with humility and without agenda, and the relationship thawed and blessings followed. Problem was, I wanted to be the one being lavished upon, not doing the lavishing. And Tim had fallen asleep on the couch, so he missed that part.
I know I could do that more, not in my own strength, but with God's help.
But most days it seems so risky to put myself back in those early days and ask myself, WWTTYAD? (what would twenty-two year old Anna do?). Because, well, what if it requires more than I want to give?
One day our house will be empty except for the two of us. It will be even quieter than it is now, and believe me it's quiet now.
And as we age, and more things fall apart, sag, disappear-- and dignity and bravado give way to need and struggle and illness-- we will be presented with many more opportunities to show each other help and grace in the smallest ways, serving each other.
It reminds me of how my grandpa used to use a curling iron to curl the back of my wee grandma's hair. Not too far removed from how Tim already colors my roots for me, right?
I don't know where this post is going.
I just know that our hours on earth are numbered. And I'm thinking I'd like to be remembered as someone who loved-- someone who would pick out pistachio slivers for her partner-- rather than someone who is worried about what's in it for her.