Into each life must come (or so we all hope) love. What matters, however, is not the fact of the love, but that we, its recipient, recognize it when it happens. This is about two such moments.
I first encountered honest-to-god love of the no-holds-barred-I’m-here-for-you variety many years ago (thirty or so, to be sort-of precise):
I own a ceramic spoon rest. As objects go, it’s fairly cheesy; it’s certainly not my “style.” I own it because it belonged to my grandmother, the single most important person in my life when I was a kid. The spoon rest always rested on her stove. (Next to which, as a kid, I often stood, absorbing, I would realize as an adult with my own kitchen, a whole lotta cooking lessons).
When she died, my dad and I went to her apartment to sort through her stuff. He didn’t offer any of it to me, but I wanted . . . something. I’m not a thief by nature, but I figured no one would miss the spoon rest. Hell, maybe no one but me had ever noticed it. Or so I hoped. I grabbed it and stuck it in my bag.
Years passed. I met the person to whom I’m now married. I moved in with him. The spoon rest took up residence in his, now also my (more or less), house.
One day not long after we took up housekeeping together — and I can’t remember the how or the why — the spoon rest cracked and split in two.
At the time, I was in graduate school, an experience for which I was ill-equipped. My life consisted of struggling to keep up with the work, roughly eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. So I set the spoon rest pieces aside; I’d glue them together when I could get a spare moment.
About two weeks later, I came home from campus to find the spoon rest at my place at our table. My sweetie had repaired it, and done it so well it was hard to see the crack.
I was stunned. Overwhelmed. In tears. He cared enough not just to make the repair, but to take the time to understand how much the object meant to me.
Put another way, and unbeknownst to me (because the idea that anyone loved me was an alien concept), he’d been watching and listening and . . . . loving me.
I’d never had such a thing happen. As I sat there, sobbing, cradling the spoon rest in my hands, my understanding of “love” expanded. Exponentially.
(When, many years later, we married, I hauled the spoon rest from Iowa, where we lived, to Austin, where we held the ceremony, and told its story as my share of the vows.)
Last night, and thirty-odd years later, I experienced another moment of unconditional, no-holds-barred love.
I have two phobias. Try as I might, I’ve been unable to master them: When either is triggered, no matter how fiercely my rational brain rails against them, my irrational brain always wins, and a dollop of panic ensues. It’s never that bad; just enough to know that my irrational mind is alive and well.
Last night, however, I had an entirely-too-close encounter with the source of one of my phobias and a response that was unprecedented in its ferocity.
I’d gone to the garage to get a pruning tool. I picked up a tool bag —— and discovered that it contained a phobia source. Dead, no less, which, to my phobic mind, is even worse than alive.
I hurled the bag to the floor and jumped back several feet.
I struggled to breathe. I think I was flapping my hands and hopping. I’m not sure.
I only knew that I was trapped: One possible exit lay straight ahead, but the tool bag lay between me and it. A second escape route lay to my right, but a lawnmower, a big wheeled cart, and a giant yard waste bin blocked the way, and my brain couldn’t figure out how to tell my legs and arms to get that stuff out of the way. Directly behind me, maybe two feet away, was another garage door, but it was closed.
And I was, for the first time in my life, and literally, paralyzed.
There I stood there, gasping for air, gasping with sobs, and apparently making a lot of noise (I say apparently because I’d not realized I was making any sounds).
As it happened, The Husband was out in the front yard, down by the street. His hearing sucks in a serious way, but somehow (via some instinct?) he heard me and came running toward the garage, calling to me.
“Honey, what’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
“Open the door, open the door,” I pleaded.
He started toward the door straight ahead, the one on the other side of the bag.
“No, no,” I said. “Open the garage door. I gotta get out of here.”
He ran to open the door behind me, and as it rose I ducked under it and ran to the back of the house, across the deck, and into to the kitchen.
“Okay,” I thought. “That’s over with. Time to start dinner.”
But it wasn’t and I couldn’t. The panic still overwhelmed my brain. I doubled over, still gasping for breath, and, by this time, also struggling not to vomit. I went outside to the deck and sat down. Put my head between my legs. Covered my eyes. Tried to calm my breathing. Counted slowly. Visualized a place of calm and beauty.
Anything to still the panic and recover my equilibrium.
Then The Husband appeared. He was carrying a shovel horizontally, walking with purpose to another part of the yard, out of my sight. I realized he was carrying that which trigged the attack; he was going to dispose of it.
A few minutes later, he passed by again, this time carrying the tool bag. He’d removed its contents and was headed to the hose to flush away the remnants of my phobia’s presence.
I hadn’t asked him to do any of that. Indeed, even as I struggled to breathe, I was already visualizing the torment I’d have to endure to dispose of the phobia and scrub out the tool bag.
But there he was. Doing it for me.
Because he loves me. And because actions always say more than the words “I love you” ever can.
I’m the luckiest person in the world. And if I die tomorrow, I will die having known love.