I once worked with a physics professor. He loved numbers in a way only other people who love numbers can truly appreciate. He was going to be teaching a class and wanted his students to be thinking about “making statistics relevant.” He was going to do this by offering an example from his life.
He shared the story of how he wakes up every morning and cares for horses. His wife loves horses. The own several horses. Every morning at 5:00 he feeds them and cleans their stalls. He loves her enough to get up early and clean their stalls. Pretty amazing.
He related that, as an experiment, he had been measuring the waste. In an effort to answer several questions, he began collecting data. What was the relationship between the amount of food they ate and amount of waste? What was the average pattern of waste? What time of year did the horses produce the most waste? Over time, was there a relationship between the horses’ health and amount of waste? Just how much food did they need to buy to maintain an average pattern of waste? He described his questions in the nerdiest, most wonderful way.
He was conducting research. I was genuinely touched. There was something really sweet about what he was doing. He was not only willing, but excited to clean up after his wife’s horses. His eyes danced when he explained his routine. That kind of love also exists between friends and family, as well as in a marriage.
He made me reconsider my expectations for love.
In the years since I worked with my physics professor friend, my perspective on love has been informed by life circumstance. I have gotten married. I have become a step mother. I have watched my parents celebrate 50 years of marriage. I have felt the seasons of the relationships of friends and family. I have continued to be a friend, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and colleague. I still believe in shoveling. There is an element of love that is a mutual commitment to the happiness of each other that does not keep track of who does what for whom. (I don’t know if my friend’s wife did anything special for him, it did not seem to matter. Love does not keep score.) The bounds of love include dealing with difficult situations, hurt feelings, and unmet expectations. Love is about coming out on the other side of tough times stronger, wiser, kinder, and more honest. The rhythm of love is more dance than drudgery, more light than heavy, more soft than hard. I now live near the ocean, and the ebb and flow of love feels constant and dependable and powerful, like waves I see when I am watching the shore.