Thursday, April 17, 2014

Small Intimacies

My wife and I have kicked around the idea of writing a book about relationships for a long time.  It’s not that we’ve run out of other things to write about, God knows, but as many things as we are passionate about, our marriage is number one.  If our relationship is in good shape, there’s an excellent chance that the rest of our lives are running in greased grooves, too.

“Small Intimacies” would be the title of the anticipated volume.  Going on twenty-three years together, we learned that a successful life partnership depended less on the grand gestures (the trips, the jewelry on major birthdays or anniversaries, the lovemaking marathons) than on the day-to-day small intimacies. 

The list of those intimacies will not excite anyone who is thinking about tying the knot.  For Miss Kitty and I, they include such mundane tasks as her carrying the laundry down the stairs because of my battered knees.  When she comes back up to the ground floor, I have probably prepared her sack lunch for work the next day.  She handles the mechanics and negotiates price for car repairs while I do the grocery shopping. 

I could go on endlessly about the things we do for each other, but then we wouldn’t have anything to write in the damn book.  This is also one of those rare instances where I am not the focus of the story.  Revel in it, it can’t last long.

Recently, I had a chance to talk to a couple of friends of mine, let’s call them Bob and Mary.  I don’t call them by these names because they would like to remain anonymous.  I call them that because their names are Bob and Mary.

They volunteer at the library that pays my salary. Bob had endured a stroke during a week when I was on vacation and it was another couple of weeks before I saw them again.  My concern about their well-being mounted with each day that passed, with the rumor mill curiously idle.  When they reappeared, I couldn’t wait to hear about a path that led from the precipice of death back to their altruistic duties.

Bob was just a tad shaky, but unquestionably himself, eager to give an account of his medical adventure.  Most of the facts he shared with me are none of your business, and frankly, weren’t any of mine, either.  What I will share was that he was minutes from a deep-brain bleed and the loss of an intellect that ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, an intelligence that could offer, at any time, a profound statement or a chucklehead anecdote.

What made the situation even more poignant was knowing that Mary had just come through a battle with cancer, including chemotherapy. I’d watched Bob keep a very close eye on Mary when she came back to the library, no doubt worrying that she was tiring, or not feeling well, or both.  As Bob showed me the livid scar on his scalp, from the operation that had saved his life, I could see Mary watching him the same way.

They are both fascinating conversationalists, easy to know and even easier to talk to.  For a few minutes, I had the chance to hear Bob tell me not only how close he had come to departing the mortal coil, but also how hearing those things from his doctors hadn’t scared him nearly as bad as waking up after surgery to see that his sons had traveled thousands of miles to sit in his hospital room and watch him sleep.  “Then I knew it was serious,” Bob recalled.  He occasionally got the details wrong, and he would look to Mary for clarification, which she happily gave.  “Mary and I talked about this a couple of days ago,” he said.  “In the space of one year, we both shaved the other’s head.”

I fought a lump in my throat as he continued.  “They don’t mention this in the wedding vows, you know?  Love, honor, cherish, shave each other’s heads…”  He looked at Mary and the two shared a smile that only comes from a lifetime partnership and a love that has only grown through the decades, years that follow the days of youthful exuberance and thick, unruly hair.

I went back to my office as soon as I could exit the conversation, afraid that the tears in my eyes would be read as pity, because it most assuredly was not.  Oncology is a wonder of science and neurosurgery makes strides everyday, but they haven’t created a treatment yet that is as powerful as the love between two people.

Love, honor, cherish, shave each other’s heads…maybe the small intimacies aren’t so small after all.

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