Each year, after what seems to be an endless winter in the Northwoods, I’m eager for a splash of color in the spring.
One May I filled my outdoor flower pots with fresh potting soil and planted pleasing combinations of red and white begonias, yellow marigolds, dainty blue lobelia, pink impatiens and purple petunias.
Throughout that spring and summer, these plants, like infants, required constant care.
Whenever frost or hail threatened, I hauled my flowered pots indoors. At least twice a week, I dead-headed faded blossoms and lugged watering cans back and forth to keep my plants alive despite the nuisance of biting black flies and marauding mosquitoes. Though my muscles and joints protested, they relaxed and quieted each time I surveyed my festival of colors.
Thanks to periodic rain and regular refreshment from watering cans, my ever-thirsty plants survived and thrived for several weeks. Gradually, as summer approached autumn, some of my annuals grew spindly while others turned brown and died. Though barely noticeable in the early stages of decay, by mid-August, my flower arrangements had lost their vibrant beauty.
In previous years, I would have emptied my pots and thrown out the plants even though a little life remained. But this particular year, sad that our time together was over, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Perhaps I looked at them differently because I, too, was becoming a bit more wrinkled, droopy, and spindly with age. Full of empathy, I chose to save what was left of my flower babies.
I examined each of the plants in the pots and gently removed those that were lifeless. I trimmed back the shriveled leaves of those that seemed determined to survive. As I did so, I discovered lovely blooms hidden underneath overgrown plants. I transplanted the healthy ones into pots of fresh soil, careful not to damage their roots with my trowel. Like turning a kaleidoscope, the new combinations of color were different but just as pleasing as before.
In my own experience, committed relationships require regular maintenance and rejuvenation too. New couples, like freshly potted flowers, are full of vibrant color and life. Over time, however, without regular attention and care, these same relationships may become stifled and rootbound or suffer from a lack of support and emotional warmth that encourages connection and growth. Life-sustaining thirsts may fail to be quenched. Occasionally, major disturbances damage the tender roots that keep them alive.
Bill and I, together for almost thirty years, are like most couples. We have had our joyful moments and not-so-joyful moments and don’t always see eye-to-eye. Having been together so long, we're well aware of each other’s pet peeves, habits, quirks, and differences.
Bill dislikes dirty dishes left in the sink. I don’t appreciate muddy boots mucking up the floor. We continue to make steady improvement in these and other irksome areas.
Bill enjoys eating raw oysters. To me, they’re slimy and disgusting. He likes cilantro. I think it tastes like soap. He appreciates the nuances of a vintage wine, especially a good Cabernet and he thinks it's a shame when I ask him to add ice cubes to my glass of Fume Blanc. We don't try to change the other.
I like to leave lights on in a room to set a mood. Bill turns them off to save energy. Our solution? We both just turn them on and off at will. Kind of like a tag game. Whoever flips the switch last, wins, at least for a while. We don't make a big deal about it.
I offer unsolicited advice about staying safe and healthy. Bill tells me I worry too much until he breaks a bone. He has an unquenchable thirst for traveling to distant places. I enjoy an occasional trip, but love the comforts of my home.
Bill’s a quiet man and unlike him, I can be a chatterbox. Several years ago, I decided to see how long it would take him to strike up a conversation during our morning coffee. Noting the time on the clock, I sat in silence. One minute went by. Then two. Then three.
When Bill put his coffee cup down on the side table, I grew hopeful, but the only sound he made was a sigh. After six minutes of dead air, I could hardly bear it. Fidgeting, I tapped my toes, then stared at him and wondered what was going through his mind. He didn’t seem to notice. Finally, he said, “How bout them Packers?” I couldn’t believe it. After another few lingering minutes, he smiled at me and told me he had suspected what I was up to all along.
Both of us are realistic that some of our irritating behaviors and differences of opinion will resurface like never-ending weeds and will require ongoing maintenance.
We've seen the worst and the best of each other and, although at times we drive each other crazy, there is no one either of us would rather spend time with. When one of us is sick or faltering, the other provides support. When we have a major conflict, we sort it out. Our love, no longer brand new, remains strong as it evolves.
Bill and I share far more good times than not. We appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature and like spending time outdoors. We love to dance, take long walks together, listen to good music and so much more.
Our differences, like contrasting colors in a garden, compliment each other. They stretch us, forcing us to examine our own habitual patterns of behavior. Because of this, we keep growing as individuals. Thanks to Bill, I step out of my comfort zone and see more of the world. He acknowledges he is more grounded and sensitive to others because of me.
Like caring for aging plants in pots, we keep our relationship alive with loving effort. We patiently discard and prune behaviors, habits and attitudes that stunt the best in us. We reconfigure and rejuvenate when necessary so that we continue to bloom with a good splash of color and sense of humor.