Out of the blue she said, “You’re doing a really good job,”
I said, “Of what?”
“Taking care of me.”
In my life I have done some things, I have been some places, I have received some accolades. I have been praised by people in high places who had good reason to praise me, I have received awards, I have even had standing ovations after I spoke at a couple of gatherings. I love praise and admiration; I loved it when I was successful at my job, I’m a middle child, I live for approval.
None of that compares with the sweet, unprompted praise from Marty, “You’re doing a real good job.” The things that are most important, the words that mean the most have changed for me. Perspectives change as life affects you.
Somewhere along the line my feelings, the intensity of my feelings, my emotions have been amped up several notches. Small words of praise and kind phrases mean more, failure has more consequence, and fear is very real. In our previous lives Marty was the fiery one, the one who laughed the loudest, cried the longest and savored life the most. I enjoyed things, I felt things, but not like Marty, not to the same degree or extent she did.
Today, Marty’s affect is pretty flat. I know she experiences joy, fear, sadness, and the entire panorama of emotions; she simply is not as obvious with her feelings, you have to really know her and understand how her eyes speak for her. Me, my eyes, my mouth, my facial expressions have all combined to betray my faux stoicism. I have become the one who cries easier, who laughs louder and who carries their emotions more for the world to see.
The reason for the role reversal is very simple; the journeys we have been through have created a complete new normal for both of us and have emphasized the critical stakes of our day-to-day existence. Normal life mistakes, sins of omission, inaction have much higher consequences. When life’s events present you with the opportunity to look at your wife and see her slipping away from the here and now, when you have the chance to say to her, “don’t you leave me now”, it gives you a different perspective and life feels more intense and decisions feel more impactful and important.
In our life fear, guilt, distress and anxiety are all more amplified but, so are the joy, gratitude and love. Hearing Marty say, “Good job”, or “I love you” means more to me today than ever before and have a lasting impact on my day and my entire life. These simple words of praise far outstrip any past successes.
Perspective is an interesting thing. So often we don’t even know we have lost it and then we can’t find it when we most need it. Too often we bask in the unimportant, we revel in the minor. For me, for us, it took earth shaking changes to gain perspective, to understand what is really important for our lives together. I’m glad I found it, I’m glad I have a better understanding of the importance of our union and Marty’s approval, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time searching for the golden ring in other places.
The words, “You are doing a really good job,” have never meant so much.