“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” (David Foster Wallace)
Became a wife. Moved from Pennsylvania to Dallas. Began a new, first-year teaching job the next day. Husband started seminary; stopped seminary; applied to two new graduate schools. Finished school. Moved again, this time from Texas to North Carolina. Husband is now a Duke student. I am still looking for a job. We have lived in two apartments, two cities, made new friends in one and are now making new friends in the next.
Reading that list and looking back on this first year of marriage, it appears that I have done a lot. They all sound like such huge, significant changes. But those changes—the kind that happen and leave you feeling like you are running, breathless to catch up as they charge ahead—do not define the day in and day out of this life. They are much like a wedding day: one day, you get married and then the next day in many ways, life is the same. Time continues on, albeit with a few more laughs and a man in bed next to you, some extra hairs on the sink, and toothpaste in unlikely places. And sometimes I still wonder: just what am I doing with my life?
I suppose it is the eternal human longing: to feel that life has significance and meaning. That we are doing good things and making our life matter. But these feelings and yearnings still feel esoteric, invisible, and impossible, like trying to grab the wind as it blows little strands of hair across my face. When I study history and the lives of others, I see that they had meaning. Doctors saved lives, writers inspired people, explorers found new lands. And here I am in my little apartment, washing dishes, trying to play the piano again, and pulling the sheets over the bed each morning.
We moved across the country in two days the first time, and three days the second. The first day of my new job came and went and after that came days and days of school, like any other day. I suppose our first year of marriage could be defined by the list of big events.
But marriage—like the rest of life—does not find shape in those few seemingly more consequential and significant days, but by what we do day in and day out in all of those quiet hours and minutes between the moves and the jobs. If our lot in this life is love, then it is not the grand moments, but the little, that make us who we are.
I think one of the hardest parts of the everydayness of life is the feeling that no one will see that my life is significant or meaningful. No one is around to hear me say a kind word to my husband or to watch me scrub the toilet again. Sometimes he doesn’t even know those moments when I catch my sarcastic word or when I choose to quietly embrace one of his quirks instead of making fun of him for it. Yet joy comes not in the praise of others, but in the assurance that love is taking root in our hearts, that it is being planted into our home, and that sometimes it can, in fact, be what first rises out of our hearts.
So it matters how we think and how we see others—more than the list of our past year, or the great things we have done and the places we have seen. It matters most of all what we do in the grocery store line, the traffic jam, at the movies, the baseball game, the lake. By giving our love to others, whether in physical gestures or simply in charitable thinking, we are participating in the Love poured out for us.
“By wasting our time, our love, in secret, we participate in the resurrection of the everyday. I heard someone say once that we should not think of the risen Christ, as if it were a finished act, but of Christ rising, Homo resurgens. When we work in secret, we participate in this rising, in the great taming of the world as Christ ascends.” (Love and Salt)