Last year, I accompanied my husband Jonathan to the dentist.
He needed a crown on a broken tooth, and – though he wouldn’t say it in so many words – he was a tad anxious about it.
I inferred anxiety based on comments like, “Caroline! What if, when I open my mouth, and they look in and say, ‘Oh, we were wrong. We actually need to take them all out. Sorry! No more teeth for you!’ What then?!”
I reassured him that this scenario was highly unlikely. Then, reading between the lines, I said, “Would you like me to go with you to the appointment?”
He shrugged. “That’d be okay,” he said, after a pause.
Though I wanted to support my husband, I wasn’t wild about going to the dentist on a Tuesday afternoon. I’d be missing prime work time. Plus, I’m still skittish about going to the dentist; as a child, I found cleanings less pleasant than, say, being tarred and feathered. (I’m not the only one.)
Given my time as a caregiver at L’Arche, you’d think I’d be a waiting room veteran. But as an assistant, waiting looked very different. What with filling out forms, making sure my housemate had used the bathroom, and taking copious notes, there wasn’t much time to read.
Part of me wished I could jump into my old role: taking notes, feeling useful. And another part of me knew that I was right where I needed to be: present for Jonathan. But being moral support can seem so small, so insignificant. We wonder, Does it really matter?
We forget that the small things do matter. It matters if we show up, if we make an extra effort to be there when our loved ones are grieving … or just a bit worried about getting a crown put in.
As Deirdre Sullivan wrote in her 2005 NPR feature, “Always Go to the Funeral,” “I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy …. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.”
Yes. Me too. My battle is usually subtle, ordinary.
My battle is going to the dentist with my husband as opposed to working a bit more. It’s taking a moment to see if I have the energy to keep working instead of just charging ahead. It’s calling a friend even though we haven’t spoken in some time and it might be awkward at first. It’s taking 5 minutes out of a full day to write a note and encourage someone.
That’s our battle: between small acts of love that call out to us and the more practical tasks we’re tempted to prioritize instead.
Love is neither practical nor efficient. It takes time and patience, more than we think we have. In fact, it demands everything. It gets to do that because it is everything.
That night, Jonathan touched my cheek and said, quietly, “Thank you for coming to the dentist’s with me.”
I heard what he was really saying: Thank you for choosing love over practicality. Thank you for hearing what I didn’t say, which was that I needed you there. And for a moment, I felt the peace that comes after a battle won …
The kind that we call victory.
Has someone ‘shown up’ for you lately? Join the conversation in the comments!
Caroline’s stories around the Web, January 2014:
NEW! Guest post at Elephant Journal: Our Love/Hate Relationship with … Yoga?
Guest post at Addie Zierman: The Resource Pile
Guest post at The Happiness Project: Before & After: Do A Little Work, Every Single Day
Guest post at GenPink: On Missing Meetings, Hopping Planes, and Choosing Life