As a kid, I remember watching my grandmother carefully pack my grandfather’s lunch pail each night, so it would be waiting for him when he left for work early the next morning. It’s surprising that such a simple task has stayed with me all these years, I think, but it has.
There were nights I could see the exhaustion in her eyes. Us kids had run her ragged all day long. She’d slaved over a hot stove preparing the nightly supper, as she always did, and rarely would she have the chance to enjoy the meal herself while it was still hot. Afterward, she’d spend the evening trying to settle us down, so my grandfather could sleep. She had been on her feet all day and was always bone tired by the end of it all. This played out every night, in almost the exact same way. And yet, once we were settled and the house was quiet, she would get up from her chair with a slight sigh, and carefully begin packing his lunch.
The truth is, she hated the task. She didn’t do it because she wanted to or because she felt like it. She did it because that is how my grandmother loved my grandfather. In small, incremental ways that would be easy for anyone not paying attention to miss.
But, I paid attention, and I’m glad I did.
Their life together was not without struggle. Lord knows, they struggled and they had their issues, some of them significant and some not. But, through them all, at least as far back as I can remember, my grandmother made him lunch. And that mattered.
By the time I came along, they slept in separate rooms and rarely, if ever, did they sit alone together for long, deep conversations. Instead, there were loving, teasing comments passed back and forth in the midst of everyday goings on, and short conversations about their day or upcoming plans. The love I witnessed between them didn’t come in the recognizable form of cuddles and kisses, but rather in the form of small, deliberate acts of kindness every day.
My grandfather bringing home a small gift he knew my grandmother would love. My grandmother turning down the bed for him each night, like clockwork. My grandfather telling her to stop serving everyone and sit down to enjoy her meal. My grandmother making sure his favorite television show was recorded, so he could watch it when he came home in the afternoon. My grandfather making sure her car was washed and running right and filled with gas. My grandmother packing him his lunch.
And when my grandfather got sick, my grandmother stopped packing lunches, and instead managed feeding tubes and medications and doctors, all with the same deliberate dedication she had shown in all those years of packing lunches and turning down bed sheets. She continued to love him in all those small but intentional ways right up until the day he died.
When I was young, I used to think their love made no sense. I wanted something different and more exciting. I wanted that head-over-heels, infatuated kind of love we see in the movies. I wanted to be swept off my feet and live happily ever after. A love like my grandparents had seemed boring and mundane to me back then. I didn’t understand that old, comfortable kind of love. I wanted more.
What I realize now, though, is that all of those feelings of infatuation and butterflies, while wonderful, eventually fade away. And when they do, we must choose love deliberately, even when we’re tired and stressed and loving acts of kindness toward each other are the last thing on earth we want to do. Just as my grandparents did for all those years.
So now, when I think about the kind of love I want in my life, I think of my grandmother carefully making sandwiches every night.
And someday, years from now, I hope to find myself standing in a kitchen, bone tired from the day, packing a lunch.