When you are young and you begin a life with someone, you have absolutely no idea what you are really doing.
I remember people with wrinkles and gray hair talk about love and commitment and lifetimes at my wedding, but to me it was mostly a low buzz compared to the joyous shouting my young friends and I were doing. The pastor talked about our marriage involving 3 people — my husband, God and me. Obviously, I thought it was important because I remembered it but, again, I really had no idea what he meant. He was just a pit stop on my way to the big party afterward.
But children enter our lives and we begin to feel the immense power of nature and this life.
We suddenly realize that, at the end of the day, we are pretty damn powerless. We move under the same forces that our parents and our grandparents moved under, and they shape our lives whether we want them to or not. We feel the weight of history more. We know that there is a circle and we will move through glorious and horrible times just as they did. We have babies, we have families, we work, we fight, we make up, we check temperatures, we learn nursery rhymes, we play ball, we teach them values, we tell them no, we instill curiosity.
We love. Just like they did.
Now that I have wrinkles and more than a bit of gray hair myself, I am beginning to feel it. I am only now starting to truly understand what any of these things really mean. What it means to grow up, get married and have a family. Now, I can feel the years between a couple as they smile at each other in church. I watch a mother quietly stand to the side and nod as her adult son chats with people, and I have a tiny burst of the pride and ache that might be behind that nod.
What a life really means is beginning to dawn on me now.
For me, getting older isn’t gaining some amazing new insights on life. It feels more like parts of my heart have opened in new ways and parts ache in ways that could only be hinted at in youth. For me, getting older is feeling tiny truths deep in your bones.
Tonight, I felt a tiny truth. I felt what love really looks like.
I saw it in a friend and her husband. They have two great kids: a kind, funny, whip smart 9-year-old daughter and an equally bright, sweet and silly 6-year-old son. In June, they learned that their son is battling brain cancer. Today, he endured yet another operation, and I was there when they brought him home from the hospital.
I saw tonight what those people with wrinkles and gray hair might have been hinting at in their speeches at my wedding so many years ago. My friend and her husband stood together and carried their beautiful boy from the car to his bed after another surgery. He was in pain and whimpered as his dad cradled him.
This is what real love looks like: A man and a woman on a Wednesday night. Together. Hurting. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Taking their son in their arms and carrying him home to his bed. That is the bravest kind of love I have ever seen.
Stephanie Olson is a mother of two boys who lives and writes in Seattle. She believes her golden rule in parenting “Just wipe it off on your pants!” will be her epitaph someday. It has gotten us through pretty well thus far! Read more of Stephanie's work on her blog, Ma Swell Vie.