When I think of love, I think of trash.
I’ve never believed in soul mates, not really. I believe in compatibility and commitment, in choice and work. I believe in the partnership of marriage — two people walking hand in hand not in an attempt to complete each other, but in an attempt to complete a purpose.
I believe these things are easy to forget.
Ken and I are far from romantic. We’re practical, choosing to acknowledge each other in the small daily rhythms of life. Me, the dishes, laundry, errands. Me, the maker of plans. He, the maker of phone calls (hallelujah) and sweeper of floors. He, the fixer of anything/everything broken.
And then there’s trash duty.
With every bag he ties, double knots, slings around his shoulder, I hear I love you.
My prince charming has never ridden in on a white horse wearing a knight’s armor, red rose clenched in his teeth. He arrives donning boxers of the plaid variety, with sometimes socks, and if so, holes. He pads into the kitchen on a Saturday morning, noon-ish, dogs scampering close behind, each of their manes disheveled from dreams.
He might find me grating cheese for our lunch, or feeding Scout pureed avocado, banana, berries. He might find me on the couch during a reading lesson with Bee, or attempting to finish the dining room table jigsaw puzzle in a few stolen minutes.
He might find me in the sunroom hosting an impromptu dance party, or in the living room yelling about the mess.
But he will find me, and he will say those three lovely words with a peck on the cheek:
Need a break?
And I will sometimes return from those breaks – those rare moments when I sneak away for a luxurious book in bed – to a clean(er) kitchen, an emptied sink.
Glad Kitchen Pro trash bags on the counter, a sure sign that love is in the air.
When I visited India last fall, my new friend spoke of her arranged marriage. It took me twenty years to fall in love with him, she said. I was deeply unhappy for most of those years.
I asked what had changed, what had made her fall in love with him after all that time?
Her answer was simple: I just changed my mind about him, that’s all.
It is hard work to change your mind about someone. It is easy to survey your spouse at their worst and grow resentful. It is easy to watch grand sweeping romantic gestures in the movies, on your Instagram feed, on your neighbor’s front porch and wonder what it’s like to have a love so vibrant, so romantic, so celebratory.
It is easy to stop noticing the one who takes out the trash, and it’s easy to start wishing he’d just bring home flowers every now and then.
Last month, Ken was out of town for a week. When trash night rolled around, I bundled up the kids and we snuck out the back door to the side of the house, hauling bins down the driveway for a morning pick-up.
My knuckles cracked from the cold and as I pulled Scout in closer for warmth, the recycling bin blew over leaving a trail of cardboard, envelopes, paper towels down the street – confetti lost to the wind.
Love is harder than I thought.
Here, then, is what I’m getting at.
To love is to notice. It is to see the one taking out the trash, folding the whites, changing the oil, feeding the baby. It is resist the temptation to allow the division of labor to turn into division of hearts. It is to notice these small, great acts of ordinary service and to hear I love you each and every time.
It is to offer your own great acts of ordinary service and to say it back.
Tonight, as I type this, I hear the familiar rumble of the trash bin wheels echoing from the side of the house, Ken at the helm. It sounds a little like the hooves of a white horse, an armored knight.
It sounds a lot like love.