The other day, two little neighborhood girls came knocking at my door. They had long straight hair, big imploring eyes, and they were dutifully wearing their Girl Scout sashes.
“Do you want to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” they asked me.
The truth is I am not a cookie person, so I didn’t want any, but I said what my husband would have said had he been there, “Sure! What kinds do you have?”
This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to buy Girl Scout cookies, but it is the first time I remember saying yes. I suppose this is what marriage has done to me: made me become someone different than before.
Before, I looked over the products that kids peddled at my door—coupon books or oranges and grapefruit—all sold as fundraisers for school, band, or team sports. If I liked the product and thought it was being sold at an appropriate value, I bought it. If not, no thank you, little kid. I was always polite and kind when turning a child down, but I doubt children remember that part. They probably just remember I said no. My husband, on the other hand, buys whatever the neighborhood kids come by to sell. A coupon book that holds no coupons we will actually use?
“Sure,” he says, “how much?”
(Actually, he never even looks first at which coupons are inside. I’m the one doing that behind him as he stands at the door.)
He’s been known to drive out of his way just so he can go by the lemonade stand the neighborhood kids have set up on the corner in the summer. He doesn’t care if the lemonade tastes good. He doesn’t care if he isn’t thirsty. He stops the car. “How much for a cup?” he asks, rolling down his window.
I’ve long believed that one of the most difficult and beautiful gifts of marriage is having someone hold up a mirror to you of who you are. It isn’t that your spouse is trying to teach you anything; it’s that if you’re paying attention, you’re learning by what they do.
Last fall, I had a health crisis of sorts, and my husband sat beside me through every medical appointment, took notes on what doctors said, and lugged around my things when I felt weak. I had to have surgery that temporarily restricted my mobility, and in the days and nights that followed, it was he who counted out my pills and cut them into correct dosages, he who tracked them on a sheet of paper, and he who set an alarm to startle him awake throughout the night when he would rise from the bed, rub his eyes until he could focus, and then find the right pill to hand me with a cup of tepid water. He didn’t complain once, even when he had to change out bandages and clean incisions and do things that one does not imagine when they say in sickness and in health.
I’d like to think, if the situation were reversed, I would do exactly what he did for me with the same loving attitude. And perhaps I would, but you cannot know who you will be until faced with such an event. Lucky for me, as the autumn passed, I was granted a primer. I watched him long enough to understand more deeply about kindness.
In our years together, I cannot tell you what I’ve taught him, but I can tell you just a few of the things I’ve learned by watching him: to be more generous, to be careful not to attribute intention to people’s actions, to balance out my perceptions with a listing of the facts, to not be so nettled by little things, to say I’m sorry more easily, to forgive more readily.
So when I say I’m a different person than the one I was before marrying him, what I mean to say is I hope I am better. I realize, too, I have a ways to go. The other week, on the second day of the big snow, two neighborhood kids came by the house to ask if I wanted them to shovel our sidewalk. I was thinking about how more snow was predicted and that I would do it myself after all the snow had ended, so I said, “Thank you, but we’re okay” and shut the door. It was only later that evening that I realized I should have said yes. We didn’t need them to shovel our walk, but they needed a yes in this world of no’s.
If only I were a faster learner. If only my husband had answered the door.