Love, True Love
Once, when our daughter Aden was very small, she suddenly looked up from her dinner and asked me earnestly, “Mama. What does true love mean?” She gazed at me quite seriously and I felt that little buzz down my spine that tells me, “This is a moment, Bensi. Get it right.” I looked over at Mike, who was already at the sink cleaning up, and felt the enormity of our well-worn love flash before my eyes: each tender moment, each harsh word, each mistake and each triumph. What does true love mean? What does it mean to hold tight, even when letting go would be easier? To bear witness to another person’s fragile striving? His soul and my soul are so scarily delicate and yet immeasurably intertwined.
All I know is, it is a privilege to hold his hand. To watch him wake up in the morning. To see him dressed up ready for work or dripping sweat after a long morning run. To watch him screw it all up and then drop to his knees to make amends. He is one of the good ones: always striving, displaying such integrity and grit, kind-hearted to a fault. Gorgeous in a Hollywood heartthrob-type way and surprisingly hilarious. He knows how to make me laugh and he knows when to put his arm around my shoulder because something touching is about to make me cry. I love him. I truly love him.
Mike and I have not had it easy. We met mere months after my heart had been crushed to bits by the sudden death of my boyfriend, Brad. At nineteen, I had the soul of an old woman. My friends tried to stand by me but there is only so long college kids can endure sorrow like that. Mike, though…Mike is hard to scare off. He fell in love with someone who was split in two—half of me still in love with a ghost and half of me fighting to move forward. He told me, “I will love you enough for both of us until you’re ready.” When you meet under those conditions, it colors your relationship. We have had to fight for a normalcy that does not include such gravity. There were many times early on that it would have been easier on both of us to walk away. And yet…easier was never going to be better when it came to us.
Over the past twenty years, we have held each other’s hands through six graduations (my goodness, we like school), four pregnancies, one dreadful miscarriage, the rearing of three young children, several health scares, and the loss of loved ones. We have started over more times than I can count: new homes, new jobs, new cities. Each newborn baby we brought home effectively imploded the “before” family, creating a brand new one; the adjustment wasn’t always easy. We have hit rough patches, have sat across from each other with tear-stained faces and granted each other the ultimate grace of saying, “Do-over.” We have asked each other what could we do better, what does the other need? We have given space for the other to grow and to change. We have fallen asleep in each other’s arms or as far apart as a queen bed can allow. We have celebrated successes and rallied behind each other in tough times.
Life upon life upon life.
So what was my answer that evening years ago, with Aden’s big, soulful blue eyes searching mine for answers to one of life’s greatest mysteries? I thought for several long moments, then met her gaze and said with equal gravity, “True love, kiddo, is choosing someone over and over again.”
True love is not perfection. It is not even necessarily beautiful, though I honestly think it is, even with all its messiness. It is raw and real, heady but often deliciously mundane; fireworks intermingling with grocery shopping and car pool. Sometimes black tie but mostly bed-head and flannel pajamas.
True love is action and trying and choosing, again and again and again. Loving someone means seeing their perfect imperfection and allowing them the honor of seeing yours. Love is courage plus tenacity plus grace.
And I’m all-in.
Written with love, in honor of Mike’s forty-second birthday, 6/1/19.