Love is Hidden in the Ordinary
Marisa Guerin, Ph.D. – May 1, 2019
Soon, we who live in the US will be celebrating Mothers’ Day, in honor of our moms and all the women who “mother” us. In a bit of a broader sweep, this blog post is written in praise of everyone who provides loving care and companionship to those who need it – moms and dads of little ones, spouses of an ailing partner, children of frail elders, nurses, friends, family, neighbors, co-workers.
It’s especially vivid for me just now, as I have been accompanying my husband on a medical journey that involved a scary major surgery and weeks of physical and emotional support. Once the anxiety of anticipating and getting through the surgery itself was past, the life rhythm of recuperation fell into a surprisingly busy, but very ordinary daily pattern. Helping him with getting ready for the day. Meds counted out and recorded. Wound care. Making breakfast, cleaning up. Laundry down to the basement and into the washer, then the dryer, then back up to the second floor, folded, put away. Making lunch, cleaning up. Daily walks in the neighborhood with him, delighting in the Spring flowers, a bit longer each day. Making dinner (or serving the delicious food so many people made for us), cleaning up. Coverage from friends to enable me to dash out to errands and groceries. Some quiet evening time together and getting ready for bed. Do it all again the next day.
I had plenty to do with my arms and legs, but at the same time plenty of opportunity for my mind and heart to be present to it all -- both the ordinariness of the routine, and also the privilege of being trusted and depended upon at a time of great vulnerability. Aware of love being expressed by a neatly folded pair of clean pajamas, coffee made the way he likes it, gentleness and patience with the many limitations after a gruesome experience of open heart surgery. Aware of love being extended to both of us in calls, visits or notes, flowers and treats, soups, casseroles, prayers, loaned medical gear, and patient listening. We haven't felt alone at any point in time, and that is a great blessing indeed!
During those days, I found myself thinking often of the enormous loving care that parents give their children, and for years upon years at that – uncomplaining, willing, exhausting I’m sure, and with its own privilege and joy as well. I’m not a parent myself and I have always admired my sisters, brothers and friends who are -- but this short period of being full-time nurse+homemaker+companion opened my eyes to a whole different depth of what their experience must be.
Of course, a spouse who is a recovering patient is not a child, and the analogy doesn’t hold up completely. I’m also not as young as most moms and dads, and in the last week or two my arthritic left knee has begun to complain loudly about all the stairs. Good thing my husband is getting better every day and can do much more for himself now! My knee will get over it.
What I do take away from this quiet and hidden month and a half is a profound appreciation for those who give faithful tending, day after day, through the dozens of little normal tasks that together make life safe, nurturing, happy, and sustainable for others, especially for those with chronic illnesses or permanent disabilities.
It has been intensely spiritual in a way that I cannot fully describe, but the experience reminded me of the quote from Thomas Merton that follows, which I have had in my journal book since I was in my early twenties. I think I’m old enough now to understand it.
“In practice the way to contemplation is an obscurity so obscure that it is no longer even dramatic. There is nothing left in it that can be grasped and cherished as heroic or even unusual. And so, for a contemplative there is a supreme value in the ordinary routine of work and poverty and hardship and monotony that characterize the lives of all the poor and uninteresting and forgotten people in the world.” -- Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
There is simple beauty in loving service, that is for sure, even if it goes by unremarked, unnoticed. Equally awesome is the loving one expresses by receiving another’s care with humility and a kind spirit.
Let’s not miss the little moments -- all the moments, if we think about it -- in which we can know ourselves to be loved and loving. I am grateful.