Love in Exceptional Times

My 20th wedding anniversary was on April Fool’s Day. This will suffice as an explanation for the rubber chickens, whoopee cushions, and jester hats at our wedding reception. I drew the line when my husband said I should walk down the aisle with a pillow stuffed up my dress. To celebrate two decades of commitment, we quietly acknowledged the date and guilted our teenager into playing card games with us. The day was a tick on the calendar, but had less meaning to us than the days prior.

canstockphoto8378139Despite our efforts to stay quarantined, my daughter had a medical emergency three nights ago. The on-call oncology doctor sent us to the emergency room. We didn’t want to go, knowing that we’d be utilizing resources and making ourselves vulnerable to the coronavirus, but she was in severe pain. Then we made a choice that was unusual for us – my husband would stay at home to lessen exposure and I would take her to the ER.

The night was a blur of watching my brave kid be in constant pain. Six hours of testing and alternating pain meds. I broke for a moment when I asked the nurse where I could get a cup of coffee – in tears, shaken, unmoored. I thought I can’t take this anymore. My texts to my husband throughout the night were straight reporting until the last one. It will be better when you are here.

By morning, she had been admitted to the hospital, which was strangely comforting – we’d spent several weeks there over the last year, so the surroundingcanstockphoto26182548s and routine were familiar. Except for the extra precautions – everyone in masks and gloves – even more critical on the pediatric oncology floor. My husband arrived with overnight bags. He’d fed the cat, straightened up the house, notified his boss. I could feel myself breathe again.

Before he arrived, I thought of the other many long nights that we’d spent in emergency rooms, surgery waiting areas, by hospital beds, and sitting at home, alert to our girl’s every sound and movement. It has been a long year and while I could call it a bad year in terms of everything we’d all gone through, it wasn’t a bad year for our family relationships, our marriage, our time together. Our true fortune is that we know how to take care of each other and we know how to laugh.

canstockphoto0506045I tend to eschew sentimentality. It took me five years to tell my husband I hated heart-shaped anything. And it’s taken him a long time to get used to my distinct lack of interest in celebrations or gifts. There is this idea that anthropologically, humans need ritual and celebration, but I think those events are simply about noticing the moment. If noticing and appreciating the moment is the point, I probably have 50 micro-celebrations a day. The pleasure of birds on the feeder, that damned good cup of coffee in the morning, a wonderful paragraph I’ve read, laughing with a friend or just hanging out with my tribe.

By late morning, my daughter’s pain had dissipated, test results were good, and we were discharged with a plan. Transitioning back to home meant dropping our clothes in the garage, hitting the showers, and disinfecting everything that had been at the hospital. And the re-set on quarantine has begun again.

I thought about love, what it meant in terms of our marriage. For the last few years, while my mother-in-law was struggling with Alzheimer’s and the last year when our daughter went through surgeries to remove tumors, my husband and I learned just how much weight we could bear. We discovered that we could still be tender, even under the worst circumstances. We could still laugh when things were darkest. And we practiced kindness when it would have been so easy to rage.

canstockphoto16583600Perhaps it is not the length of time, but the fact that this commitment ever came to be that still amazes me. I placed a Yahoo singles ad twenty-two years ago, long before the swiping and the algorithms. I was 29, had just moved to Minneapolis, and wanted to get on with a social life. Of the responses, many creepy and weird, I picked his. With no locations mentioned in the metro wide ad, we found out that we lived two miles away from each other. We exchanged emails for two weeks before going on our first date. Thus far, it’s worked out pretty well.

Like character, love shows its nature under duress. The world seems like a very scary place now. Nothing is assured and everything is shifting and changing. The greatest luxury of all is to be kind to ourselves and to one another in the midst of chaos – and to realize that celebration can’t be saved up for singular occasions. When so much suffering is in the world, we are sometimes afraid to let the moments of joy in, to say yes, in the middle of all this, I can have moments of happiness. The gratitude for those gentle moments seems a lot like love.

31 Comments on “Love in Exceptional Times

  1. Belated Happy Anniversary wishes!! Honestly, Michelle, you’ve come through so much — intact. What an inspiration. I hope you all will have the finest rest of the year ever. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I think we’ve been pretty fortunate for a lot of reasons, so I feel an immense amount of gratitude for friends and family and medical personnel – and the readers here, who have left kind, supportive comments.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Belated anniversary Michelle. It is very good to hear that your daughter’s test results were good and you were all able to go home. Together. The kind of year you’ve had and the kind of times we are all going through right now either bring couples even closer together or push them apart. One thing is for sure. You sure know how to swipe!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Fransi. I keep seeing all these articles about the rise of divorce after quarantine. When everything else is stripped away, I suppose we can no longer be distracted from the disasters in front of us. With my marriage, I think there was a strong advantage that we met when we were older. Oats had been sown, mistakes had been made. Stay well!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the reminder that knowing how to take care of each other and how to laugh are essential skills for a meaningful life. Wishing you the best, Michelle.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great observation: “Like character, love shows its nature under duress.” Sounds as if you have a love truly worth celebrating — in your understated, daily micro-appreciation way, of course. 🙂 Happy Anniversary to you both — and how lucky your daughter, to have parents who love not only her but each other so splendidly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Cate. I often say that we’re lucky, but I also know we have to make deliberate choices each and every day to be kind to one another. Like most things, it requires self-reflection and practice, practice, practice. And we’re not always successful (especially me!), but enough to hold up under stress.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. What a beautiful way of expressing what, likely, many of us are feeling. My words get locked inside, I’m grateful you express them so well. Blessings to you & your lovely family.

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  6. I understand this piece. I love your comment about having multiple micro celebrations a day. I am one to eschew rituals and celebrations. Maybe I’m just lazy, but I don’t want to have to work so hard at things. Like Warren Zevon instructed before his death, I just want to enjoy every sandwich. Happy Anniversary to you and your husband. I’m hoping that joy continues to find you even under these difficult circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to laugh a bit at your comment, Ilona – I think laziness might play a role here, too. I also find that constructed events tend to be less joyful because of all the work involved. Wishing you many micro-celebrations today!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. What a beautiful post Michelle. I also don’t much care about celebrating anniversaries or even my birthday. Neither does Don. In 21 years together I don’t think we’ve ever celebrated our wedding anniversary. And yet, like you we are still amazed that our commitment ever came about. Like you it’s the small daily celebrations that fulfill me. That and the ability to be tender with, and grateful for each other. We are very very lucky – you and I and our spouses to have found and nurtured this kind of love.
    Happy anniversary 🙂
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Alison. Congrats to you both as well. As I mentioned above, to Fransi, there is some advantage to meeting and marrying when one is older. You and I have exchanged comments about our upbringing and for me, never feeling safe or accepted as a child at home propelled me to want something different. I never want any of us to dread walking through the door at the end of the day, where we should feel comfort, love, and kindness.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Cheryl. These days, moments count for so much more than what might happen tomorrow. This is where some of the Budhhist ideas really hit home for me – learning to be present. Wishing you good health and many celebrations!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. As always, you put things into words which I didn’t realize I was already thinking. It’s funny that you mentioned a mug of coffee. My Green Study mug has been relegated to non-coffee duty and gives me comfort when I see it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Dave! I still have a chill rabbit drawing hanging in my study and it always makes me smile. Those innocent blogging days of yore. I’m trying to get myself back into it, but it is taking more focus and concentration. And I’m holding back on political screeds, since we’re flooded with them. Posts end up being Dear Diary rambles, but I’m still here, so I guess that’s something. Are you doing much writing lately? That’s like a shitty cocktail party question, isn’t it? Well, welcome to my shitty cocktail party.

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      • Let’s not forget the inherent value of s shitty cocktail party. I have been trying to write, but without much success so far. I started another blog about professional stuff. Not as acidic, but probably better value.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I am so glad that your daughter is out of pain and at home. I know how scary it is to be a cancer family in the midst of all of this. Our biggest risk for catching the virus here in NYC is Dan’s weekly immunotherapy appointment at Mt. Sinai. So far so good. Same routine: strip, launder, feel lucky, hope. My best to you all.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Absolutely dear Michelle, I second by every word and vouch for every thought and relate with every line of yours! Soo Soo true a fact indeed…True love is to be found or realized in the midst of all chaos or mess, or as you aptly said “in exceptional times”. All my heartfelt prayers are with you and your daughter and your entire family amid all this global and personal crisis. Keep smiling. Keep writing to motivate us. Amen. Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sorry for my belated congratulations. I did read this at the time, but I was on my phone, and of course, I can’t comment while viewing posts in email. (I have a thousand-and-one excuses–just call me Scheherazade.)

    The days are getting longer as the sun comes once more into range (or we come into its range…for the pedants out there) which does a lot to lift the spirits. But then, the days seem longer because they are not broken up by school/work/outside usual life. It feels a lot like the clock is ticking very slowly now. I wish is translated into feeling like I was doing more living!

    Liked by 1 person

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