Small expressions

Tube of toothpaste neatly rolled

It’s not as if I haven’t noticed it before, because I have. It’s something I see—first thing every morning—when I lurch from bed into the bathroom: a tube of toothpaste, lying there on the vanity.

A tube is almost always lying there, because truth be told, neither my husband nor I are such neat freaks that we feel compelled to stow such things away out of sight. Besides, I suppose we rationalize it, leaving your toothpaste out in the open and within easy reach is just more convenient when you need to use it.

But this morning when I saw the tube for the umpteenth time in our married life (and we are coming up to our 35th anniversary next month, so by my count I’ve probably looked on such tubes in such places more than twelve thousand times) I paused and thought about what that tube represented.

Maybe I let my eyes linger on it because news broke this week of the marital infidelities of yet another long-married evangelical celebrity couple in the U.S. Or maybe it’s because I went wedding dress shopping with our youngest daughter last week, so marriage is definitely top of mind. Or maybe it’s the simple fact of our own rapidly approaching anniversary. But I looked at that tube and I smiled. And then I breathed not one, but two of those “essential” one-word prayers that Anne Lamott talks about; specifically, “Wow.” And then I whispered, “Thanks.”

You see, I’m a grab-the-tube-and-squeeze-it-in-the-middle kind of person. Always in a hurry to get the essentials over and done with so I can get on with my day, it’s faster and easier to just grab the Crest and curl my fist around it in firm pressure until the blue goo oozes out onto my toothbrush. Pop the lid back on, set the tube back down, and I’m good to go.

But Doug prefers his tubes neatly rolled from the bottom end. So when he finds my misshapen left-behind messes, he patiently smoothes them out and rolls them up from the ends. He’d done just that the night before, and so the lovely tube pictured above, awaited me.

You’d think he’d complain, but he doesn’t. You’d think I’d become a little less selfish and take the time to repair the damage I cause after each day’s assault on the toothpaste, because I know it matters to him, but I never have.

And it was that thought that set me first to marvelling this morning, and then to thanking God for the gift that Doug is and has always been to my life. Flattening and rolling the toothpaste tube so that it’s lovely, and smooth, and readily squeezable has been his silent act of thankless service. It may be a small gesture, but done again and again, willingly and without complaint—times more than twelve thousand!—well, it’s pretty huge.

When I joined him in the kitchen for breakfast this morning before I did anything else I wrapped my arms around him and thanked him for demonstrating his love for me in such a practical way all these years. Of such small expressions can a good marriage be made.

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It occurred to me after writing this that the toothpaste, and my prayers, were never just about the shape of the tube. They were, rather, pointing to a deeper truth. The tube of toothpaste is really just a metaphor for all of the give and take that happens in a marriage. And the older I get, the more I realize that it’s really the “give” that makes marriage strong.

For 31 other things I’ve learned about marriage, you might enjoy this: 31 things I’ve learned from 31 years of marriage

 

 

 

 

31 things I’ve learned from 31 years of marriage

Wedding day photo

My husband Doug and I mark 31 years of married life today.

This, less than 24 hours after hearing about the split of one of Hollywood’s power couples. Social media has, apparently, been filled with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the demise of #Brangelina. So for those who might be tempted to give up on the idea of love and marriage because of that demise, I’d like to offer hope in the way of sharing some lessons I’ve learned from married life. One lesson per year.

  1. No one really knows what goes on in a marriage except the two people involved.
  2. In marriage, character counts. Honesty, integrity, humility, loyalty, faithfulness, respect, good humour, the ability to forgive, and to persevere all matter. A lot.
  3. Character matters in both partners.
  4. No one is perfect. No one. But together, two imperfect – but committed people – can build something perfectly wonderful and deeply satisfying.
  5. Physical attraction never goes away. If the sound of his voice, or the look in his eyes, or the feel of his hand in yours makes your heart beat faster in your 20s, there’s a good chance it always will. (Providing that all of those other qualities I mentioned in point #2 above are also there.)
  6. Sacred vows are important: but only if you’re a person who believes in the inviolability of a sacred vow. Otherwise, I suppose they’re not worth much at all. (See point #2.)
  7. There are times in marriage when the ONLY thing that keeps you committed is your commitment to your vows. When you get through those times, you’ll be so very glad you stuck it out. (See point #5.)
  8. Prayer – alone and together – can be a lifeline. When you feel like you’re at the end of your rope and don’t know where else to turn, getting on your knees can bring help, hope and healing in a way that nothing else can. Getting on your knees together can bring about a level of intimacy that nothing else does.
  9. If you make each other laugh – and if you love each other’s company when you’re dating, chances are good that you always will. But it’s important to build in opportunities for fun and togetherness, to intentionally nurture the laughter. Otherwise, life can become dreary.
  10. If dancing together brings you joy, then dance! Dance in the kitchen or in the living room or the bedroom. Dance to music, or make your own.
  11. Love is a feeling, an emotion. But it is also an act of the will. When the intensity of the feeling diminishes – as it does – choosing to continue to love, and to act with love, ensures the feelings transform into something deeper, more resilient and satisfying.
  12. Trifling habits can make you make each other crazy. (He brushes his teeth in the shower. I perpetually use his hairbrush.) Some things just have to be forgiven – again and again …
  13. At a certain point you realize that some of the things that once seemed so important to do battle over, really aren’t that important after all. You learn to overlook those things, and find you’re both happier for it.
  14. There were times – in the early years of marriage – when I know we both wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into.  What got us through those times? See points #2, #5, #6, and #8 above.
  15. When children come along, marriage can take on a whole new depth and purpose. Suddenly there are wonderful, incredible, amazing human beings on the planet, born as a result of the love you share. It’s astonishing, and you realize you would do anything for these little people, which is good because the extent to which they need you is almost overwhelming. Having a partner who is truly a partner in the midst of all that neediness can be the difference between deep satisfaction and despair.
  16. Seeing your partner love your children well can make you prouder and more in love than you ever thought possible.
  17. There are years of sheer exhaustion when the demands of work and family life can take a tremendous toll. But things get better. And when you get through those years, it’s a gift to be able to look at each other and say, “We did it together.”
  18. Children grow. And leave. They make their own choices and build their own lives. The leaving can be excruciating. But if you and your partner are there for each other, it can make all the difference.
  19. Having a friend who’s been at your side – through thick and thin – for 31 years, who loves you in spite of all your failings and weaknesses is like winning the lottery. Only better.
  20. It’s important to have each other’s back. If you don’t, who will?
  21. It’s important to be each other’s greatest fan, loudest cheer-leader and strongest supporter. If you don’t, who will?
  22. While character is important going into marriage (see point #2), marriage is also one of the best character-builders around.
  23. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of loving, willing self-sacrifice in marriage. On both sides. (See point #22).
  24. Marriage brings more than just two people together; it brings two families together, which also yields challenges and joys. How to get through the challenges? See points #20, #22 and #23.
  25. At times, marriage can be harder than you ever thought possible. At other times, it can be pure bliss. If you’re lucky – if you’ve chosen a partner of good character, who shares your values and goals – then you’ll find that most of the time it’s better than you could have imagined.
  26. If you’re both completely committed to your marriage – even during times when you might not feel completely committed to each other – you’ll find there is no such thing as “irreconcilable differences.”
  27. I truly believe that in my marriage to Doug, I got the better end of the deal. The thing that astonishes me, is that he says he feels the same way. I’m not sure what lesson to take from that – but I know there’s one in there somewhere.
  28. If I had it to do all over again, I would.
  29. Becoming “Patti Paddey” – a name I’ve had to explain and justify, again and again since the day I said “I do,” has been worth it.
  30. Bodies change. Hair grows grey. Parts sag. Passion matures. And it’s all good.
  31. Over the course of 31 years, you build a lot of shared memories. Some are wonderful, some are painful. But the fact that you’ve shared them has a way of making you grateful for each one – and of intensifying your gratitude for each other.

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“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

                                                             — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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