This morning I washed the breakfast dishes and did the laundry. A few minutes ago, I put clean sheets on our twin beds. I'm a bit awkward at the task, but I did it.
This kind of household labor isn't new to me, because I made beds in the days when Shirley worked full-time. After I entered graduate school, she went to work to support our three children and me. That enabled me to study full-time and work part-time as a pastor.
I instigated the change. I referred to it as a division of labor. Making beds, washing dishes, and doing laundry were tasks I could do, even if not as skillfully as she did.
In those days, the children were able to help with the cooking. I learned to use the slow cooker and heat up leftovers. I read and followed recipes. Providing delicious meals, however, was a skill beyond my ability.
After Shirley retired, she said she wanted to take over those duties. She reminded me that I had done them to support her efforts to bring in finances.
Her return to homemaker responsibility occurred 20 years ago and we adjusted easily.
Recently, however, I've gone back to the household tasks. This time my motivation is different. Even though she sometimes insists on helping, she's not physically well enough to do them.
The combination of residual effects from a car accident, the development of severe arthritis, and the progressive deterioration of her spine, means she lives with pain every day. Despite medication, the physical torture is never fully gone.
A few weeks ago, her doctor said, "I don't know how you are able to walk without help." He insisted that she begin using a walker.
She complied and handles her little piece of equipment gracefully. I've figured out how to help her into the car, fold the walker, stow it in the backseat, and move around to the front of the car with a smooth rhythmic flow.
My next step seemed obvious. Although she never complained, I saw that making beds and doing dishes were physically painful for Shirley. So I insisted on taking over the tasks once again.
This morning after fitting the laundered sheets on the bed, I realized the difference between making beds then and now. I saw that simple job as a metaphor for this phase of our life together.
During Shirley's 25-year working cycle, I did what I could. She never asked me to divide the household tasks, but it seemed selfish to expect her to work all day and come home and take on the stay-at-home-mother tasks. I did them because it seemed like the right thing to do.
Now I do them again. But the motivation is different. This is my unvoiced statement of love. I do the simple things as an expression of my love and commitment to her for our 57 years together. (I still use my voice daily to tell her of my love.)