Ok, y’all get ready for some really heavy stuff. This is the real deal. Meaning of life and all that. Seriously. Now maybe y’all don’t think I’ve got what it takes to talk about that. But you’ve all heard me say, just about forever, “This is the romance of the century. I just don’t have time to write the book.” Well, here it is. Distilled. The essence of why that works, how it happens, what makes it real. And it’s not that Larry and I were so special (of course, though, we were and we are, but so are you) it’s just that we took care to recognize what was happening, while it was happening. We paid attention. We took note. We gave credence to it, and treated it with care, with the reverence it deserves.
And you’re still reading, so you’re asking yourself what this ‘it’ might be. It’s love, of course. Isn’t everything? But that’s such a general term, used in every hackneyed greeting card sentiment. It’s selflessness, giving. Ditto. It’s not going to be summed up in a word. I have to tell you about us.
Larry was diagnosed as a teenager, with a terminal disease. That is, he was told he only had a short time to live. He was 14 years old, and told he would not survive his teens. By the time I met him, at 33, he’d had surgery to remove one lung, had been in and out of the hospital and told he was dying every single year since. So when he asked me to marry him, I was faced with the daunting prospect of marrying a dying man. Told you. Heavy stuff. It didn’t take a lot of convincing, though, that whatever time I could have with him would be better than skipping the sad part. (I had no inkling, then, what being a widow meant. The sad part, indeed.) And frankly, I was 29 years old, and that’s not a particularly bright age –apologies to twenty somethings everywhere, I promise, each decade will bring its own enlightenment – so I had a youthful point of view. If I was only going to have Larry five years, I imagined I would have Larry, exactly as he was, for five years, and then I would not. That’s as far as my mind stretched. I didn’t fully understand his disease, although to be fair, neither did the medical community, but deterioration wasn’t part of my thought process.
And miraculously, thankfully, I had that man for thirty years. Three entire decades. And we spent the first decade dealing with that prognosis, battling it like an enemy, fending it off, and raising children and having careers and making a life the same as every couple in their thirties does. We battled each other, too, and emotions ran high – love and anger and laughter and sorrow – and somehow, we came out the other side, children reared, careers settled, and the next twenty years took shape in the mountains. I was running a bed and breakfast, and taking care of Larry. At first, he was helping, whenever and however he could. But progressively, he just could not. Others filled the roles he’d once held. Handyman. Photographer. He became more and more housebound and as a result, so did I.
And through it all, I was sure I was the most pampered, spoiled wife on the planet. And Larry was sure he was the lucky one. You hear that, now and then, in a particularly successful marriage. I want to tell you what it means. In my case, it means I was married to a wonderful man, with whom I was head over heels in love, and he had only a short time to live. For me, that meant that every decision was based on making sure that he had the richest experiences. That his dreams all came true. If he wanted something, it became my quest to obtain it. If I overheard him mention something he would enjoy, it became my quest to make sure it happened. In time, every decision I made was based on making sure that Larry had the absolute most wonderful life possible. And of course, without having any idea it was unfolding that way –something I’ve only learned in hindsight- I was making sure I had the same.
Because, you see, Larry was doing the exact same thing for me. He knew he only had a short time, so he wanted to make the most of it. And for him, making the most of it meant being in love with me. How do I know that? Because he told me all the time. All. The. Time. Every single day. We had a little ritual of toasting every day. With wine glasses, with coffee cups, with cheetos or the remote controls. Didn’t matter. The thing was, we had to look each other in the eyes and mean it. Even on the crappy days. That’s not always easy, folks. But we did it. So yes, I knew he loved me completely. And he knew I loved him. That wasn’t ever in question.
Over time, this developed into a giving relationship, and I mean everything was a gift. Everything I did was a gift to Larry. And everything he did was a gift to me. I never sat a plate of food in front of that man that he didn’t light up and say, “Wow!” Ok, occasionally it was with humor, but he always followed it up with a thank you. And for most of our lives together, Larry cooked, a lot! And received the same accolades and the same thanks. Whoever cleaned the kitchen got thanked. Hang up the clothes from the dryer? Thank you! Make iced tea, you are so wonderful. Take out the trash, oh gosh thanks. Bring me ice water, you are a blessing. Because each of these was treated as a gift, by the giver and the recipient. And when your focus is on giving the one you love gifts throughout the day and throughout the years, there is no time to focus on what you don’t have, whether that is time or energy or things. You’re far too focused on love.
And there you are. Together.
“I’m the spoiled one.”
“No, I am.”
And while making Larry’s dreams come true, I accidentally made myself this magical life. And he made his magical life making my dreams come true. When every single thing that you receive all day long is a gift from the one you love, it gets pretty easy to live a life of gratitude.
Think about that for a moment.
When everything you receive all day long is a gift from the one you love…