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.
Despite 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 surroundings 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.
I 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.
Perhaps 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.