Learn to enjoy the beauty of messy long-term relationships
"Stars, they make me wonder where you are
Stars, up on heaven's boulevard..."
I was about to drive home from Parent-Teacher Conference Night. My day began around 7:15 a.m., when I arrived at school. It ended around 8 p.m. or so. Now, it was dark, just as it had been in the morning when I arrived. Difference was, the stars were out and shone brightly in the clear sky. Mesmerized, I walked to the car looking heavenward as puffs of my breath escaped my gaping mouth. Enter car. Start ignition. Wait, what is that?
On my dashboard, angled perfectly so the top of it touched the windshield, allowing it to remain upright, was a card. Perfectly formed cursive letters informed me it was from my husband. Oh, yeah, it was Valentine's Day. I had remembered the holiday in the morning, but since then, had lost myself in the day and really had not dwelled on the holiday. Of course, I had cards for John, my husband of nearly 24 years. They were in my purse, ready for me to give them to him during our late dinner. Yet, seeing this card surprised me.
John had been sick with the flu since the weekend. It was a "gift" I had given to him as I had it the week prior. Unable to work during the week, John had come in for Parent-Teacher Conferences. However, he instructed the middle school students who worked as greeters to inform any parent desiring to see Mr. Hill that he had the flu. This allowed parents to decide their own "risk level!" Therefore, I had not expected John to remember to get me a card for Valentine's Day. And yet...
Tears filled my eyes as I read the additional handwritten note inside the card. Looking through my front window, I allowed his words to sink in as the stars twinkled their approval. It was such a beautiful night. Clearing my eyes, I headed toward the road and turned on the radio.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals filled the car with a song titled "Stars." The selection made me laugh as the lyrics are mostly about lost love. However, like all poems and lyrics, I like to interpret the words to fit my own purposes. Thus, on this night, I embraced the idea that a song, focusing on the stars, was playing.
The moment felt divine. I began singing, as one only does in private, for I know I cannot keep a tune. Along with my singing came a loss of awareness of my pace. Stop sign ahead. Getting here faster than anticipated. Screech to a stop. Thud.
Going slightly too fast. The energy didn't want to halt when the brakes stopped my car. Therefore, my school bag hit the floor. It had been in the seat of my passenger side. Oops! Going to be a bit of a mess to clean up, especially since I like to keep my school bag in a certain order. Oh well, why stress over it?
Isn't it funny? I do not keep my house as structured as I do that school bag. In fact, I am a terrible housekeeper -- or at least in my mind I am. As a working mom, there is never enough time to keep up with laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, ironing, dishes (our dishwasher has been broken for several months), dusting, sweeping, pets (and their litter boxes, ugh!). Not to mention the fact that I write on the side and like to exercise at least four days per week. Yet, at school, as well as anything related to school, I like to keep order. If only the rest of my life were so structured!
I thought of my school bag with the contents tossed about the floor of the passenger side of the car. There is a certain pocket in which I keep my grading pens; and, another two pockets that I use for my refillable water bottle and reusable coffee mug (I like to think I am "earth friendly"). In the middle and main compartment, I keep my lunch box. Then, on one side of my lunch box are papers to grade; while on the other side is the current book my students are or will be reading -- nice and orderly. The stars laugh with their sparkling eyes at my thoughts. Life is not "nice and orderly." If so, I would have never had the flu and given it to John! Shaking my head, I reflected upon our marriage.
So often, it is my opinion, that couples confuse "dating" with what an actual lasting relationship is. "Dating" is always fun, flirtatious, energetic and time filling. It is a type of high -- like my school bag, nice and orderly. Frivolity goes in this pocket. Charming allurement goes in another pocket. Excitement and "buzziness" goes in the main compartment, along with a side of cute clothes and lengthy time spent in semi-dark, romantic spots, one might not otherwise visit alone.
Whereas relationships have a certain grit to them, a certain type of messiness that requires stick-to-it-ness, like my house. This is the real me/you; and, this is our real world: children that get sick in the middle of the night; schedules that often run opposite of one another so that by the time we do see each other, we are too tired to talk; budget constraints that get tighter the more responsibilities "we" take on; and, well, let's face it, the day-to-day routine that reveals each person doesn't always look, act or speak as one does on at "date." So why bother?
Well, to be certain, that is a prevalent line of thought -- at least as our pop culture exemplifies. Still, I would argue, there is a certain beauty in the messiness of a long-term relationship. Look at the stars. They have been in the heavens well before and long after us. They are scattered about the sky in random order that changes with the seasons. Yet, look closely and one sees the perfect arrangement of the constellations, galaxies, planets and so forth. And, isn't that love over a lifetime?
May we all look at the stars and be reminded of the perfect scattering of love all around us.
Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.