Monday, February 16, 2009

A few right words can show the love

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel February 16, 2009)

A few days ago, I was talking to one of our customers while her husband helped my husband load bamboo plants onto the back of their trailer. While the men busied themselves with tractors, tarps and tie-downs, we women made small talk about our children, homes and garden projects.

After telling me about a waterfall her husband had built in their backyard, she made a comment that surprised me.

"I have the best husband," she said. "He can do anything, fix anything and build anything."

"I'm afraid I have to correct you on that," I replied. "My husband is the best husband there is."

We sat there laughing, two strangers of a similar age who have both been happily married for many years.

My customer's words surprised me because they are so rare. Casual comments about our partners are far more likely to include complaints and criticisms than compliments and praise. We don't think twice about telling complete strangers our mate's bad habits, unpleasant mannerisms or unacceptable behaviors but we seldom share tales of their kind actions, loving gestures or admirable qualities.

Why is that? Why is it easier to disparage the people who are dearest to us rather than laden them with praise?

Valentine's Day was this past weekend, and people across the country took advantage of the holiday to proclaim their love with cards and gifts. But do we really need a designated day to announce our affection? Shouldn't our entire lives reflect the affection we feel for our partners?

I've been married to my husband for 38 years and I never tire of singing his virtues. Ralph isn't perfect but he comes mighty close. He's smart and handsome, strong and gentle, hardworking and playful. His easygoing, patient nature is the perfect counterbalance to my often emotional, erratic self.

We work well together, agree on important issues and share the same priorities. Our marriage is full of soothing patterns and exciting surprises. The gratitude I feel for our shared life only increases each day.

I expect most people in relationships feel similar affection for their partners. Characteristics and qualities may differ, but beneath all the layers of everyday life is the undercurrent of love upon which unions are built.

I wonder how different the world would be if more people -- like my customer the other day -- expressed appreciation for their partners instead of reverting to the far more common words of mockery and ridicule.

Media rules the world. We are constantly told how to look, act and think. On Feb. 14, the powers that be tell us now is the time to express our love. Buy a present for your sweetheart -- the more expensive the gift, the deeper your love.

I'm sorry, but I just don't buy it.

Love isn't measured by dollars and cents. It's not something that can be purchased over the counter or ordered from a catalog. Real affection -- true caring and devotion -- is expressed every day by kindnesses large and small, by actions, reactions, by hugs, kisses and -- most importantly -- by words.

Saying "I have the best husband" is one person's way of acknowledging the passion that can remain in a marriage even after 40 years have come and gone. My customer might not have realized it at the time, but she gave her husband an early Valentine's Day gift when she visited our nursery last week.

I'm not referring to the purchase of bamboo plants to add to their landscape. The present she offered was far less obvious. Her five little words stated in a matter-of-fact tone was a gift so grand, it deserves to be passed on.

Give someone you love a hug. Tell them you care. Valentine's Day may be over, but the future is just beginning. Fill your tomorrows with declarations of love. When all is said and done, it's the only gift that counts.

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