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.

***

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