I’m in the midst of a major life transition. Nearly everything I own is in boxes. I’ve sorted and cleaned and trashed and donated mountains of stuff. Moving is the ultimate inventory. It’s also a spiritual and emotional inventory, purging, and relocating for me. I say goodbye everyday. Yesterday I rehomed one of my beloved pets. I know it is best for him, for it would be cruel to take my country-cat to the city. He loves his romps in the fields and orchards. But it hurts. The right thing doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes the right thing feels like loss and grief.
Much of the work of moving is repetitive and meditative. I have a lot of time to think while I pack books and sort toys and wrap dishes. And I think a lot about the lessons learned here. Last week my brother and I found another stash of my first husband’s empty beer cans. I spent a year cleaning up his empty beer cans. But as we cleaned up the yard there were more. I don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like. But I know a lot about sick relationships. For every failure there is at least one lesson to learn. I don’t want to take the trash of the past with me into the future. The beer cans were so full of dirt after their years in the wood pile that I didn’t even try to recycle the aluminum — they went straight to the dumpster.
The most obvious lesson from my marriages is Never Use the “D” Word. As soon as someone says it there is no more trust. This happened to be a big factor in both my divorces — they both tried to use leaving as a threat to coerce me into what they wanted. And me, well, I called their bluff both times. I helped them pack. Because I knew that no relationship can be based on one partner manipulating the other like that.
I think about the slow disconnection and numbing of my second marriage, how I slowly came to rely on drugs to fill the empty place. I picked the least healthy response. It probably would have been better to have just started sleeping with another man. But I couldn’t and wouldn’t make that choice. I still wouldn’t. Loyalty runs deep in me. So I turned to drugs and long talks with my friends to fill the aching loneliness of a husband who was only present in body but not in heart. He spent three weeks researching the world’s cheapest razor blades while I got high alone. He spent months researching divorce laws “for his brother” while I talked to my friend on the phone and sorted laundry with it perched on my shoulder. He went back to school and even made a time-management plan without a single minute for me. I tried to be dutiful and supportive of his goals and dreams. I started smoking more pot.
What I know about long term relationships comes mostly from the lessons of raising my children. It was more than twelve years ago I made the choice to keep my baby. And I still make that choice. The odds were bad for us. The whole world stacked against us. But I took the hard road and decided to have and keep my baby. Thank God it was a choice I had. I think if I didn’t have the option not to have kept him I would have spent the last twelve years resentful and angry. He and I would have had a very different story. For the most part I have raised these children alone. No one was there night after night after night but me. I nursed them and changed them, washed them and walked them, fed them and rocked them. Night after day after night after day. Every morning for 11 years, 6 months, and 3 weeks I have said “I love you. Good morning.” Every night for 11 years, 6 months, and 3 weeks I have said “Good night. I love you.”
I’ve taken a few small adventures with my kids. We’ve had our share of Big Exciting Events. But most of what makes us a family is the little things. It’s the love in the tiny, day-to-day tasks that forms our memories, our foundation. I read to them every single night. It is so small, just 15 or 20 minutes, but it is just for them and they know it. I insist that we have good manners with each other and maintain respect and courtesy. It doesn’t always work, I have a tweenager after all, but I think it is vital to any relationship to be polite and kind.
The truth is long-term relationships of any sort are boring and tedious. Romance is anything but romantic if it is to last. The same goes for friendships. Most of life is getting up and doing it again.
One of my dearest friends has been part of my life since I was 15. She and I are unlikely friends. She is older than my parents. We come from across religions and generations. Sometimes we have the same conversations we’ve already had a hundred times. But still we listen to each other. We’ve answered the phone the same way for nearly 18 years. We talk while we do our ordinary, boring, house chores. We help each other with fun things like loading furniture and sweeping floors and making sandwiches for hungry kids.
I don’t want to move the trash, the broken happy meal toys, the clothes I can’t wear anymore, the well-meant gifts that were never suited to me. I’m even leaving books I like and cats I love. Sometimes love is letting go, too.
I think we’ve been unfortunately convinced that love and faith are about feeling and thinking. Bullshit. Both are about doing. (And words are, in a sense, a form of doing. Especially when it comes to manners and how words can be used to hurt people right through the heart.) Faith is as much about showing up and doing as it is about ascribing to a set of ideas. Maybe more about showing up and doing, if we take Jesus at his life and word. He talked a lot about the fruit of the tree being the test of the tree. I can’t think of a single parable that wasn’t somehow rooted in boring, daily tasks. Animals. Fields. Trees. Baking bread. Seeds. Servants’ chores. They’re boring.
Does it matter how I feel if I never tell and never do? And maybe some days I don’t feel like folding the laundry or fixing food. But I do it anyways. Some moments I don’t love my kids, not as a feeling. Some moments the tweenager is rolling his eyes and slamming doors and some moments the younger sister is pestering him and picking on him or pushing his buttons just to make him act up. And in those moments there usually aren’t warm, lovely feelings in my heart. Anger and frustration and futility are more usual. Some moments I’m tired and hungry and exhausted and bordering on my own meltdown. Love isn’t what I feel at those times. Love is what I do. Love is calmly asking that my door not be slammed. Love is cooking another dinner, saying Good Morning again, folding another basket of clothes, taking out a bag of trash, cleaning a litter box. Love is being there and being present in the moment.
These are the things I want to move, I want to keep, I want to bring with me to the future.
I don’t want to bring the case of empty beer cans or the strained silence. I don’t want to bring chaos and manipulation. I don’t want to bring a bong and a bag of dope. I don’t want to bring snide comments about reading the Bible too much or devil’s advocating for the rights of rapists. I don’t want to bring neglect and distance and disrespect and rudeness.
I want to bring the little boring things that make life close and committed and caring. I want to bring the bread pans and paring knives and laundry soap. I want to bring the Good Mornings and Good Nights and hugs at the door. I want to bring the rocking chair and sensible walking shoes. I want to bring the potted plants and seeds. I want to bring the Bible and a few good novels to read together. I want to bring attention and intimacy and manners and kindness.