About once a week, as I’m scrubbing a pot, reading the newspaper or watching TV, my wife asks me to hand over my eyeglasses, which I do without question, like a tourist surrendering his passport to a border guard. She wipes the lenses clean and restores them to the bridge of my nose, leaving me startled, as I always am, by how well I can see.
Suddenly unclouded by the grime and dust of daily living, my world looks new again. The sentences in newsprint glow as radiantly as the credits on a film screen. The TV anchorman seems brightened tenfold, as if painted by Michelangelo. The flowers in the table vase appear as sharp as glass, like they’ve been cut by a jeweler. I marvel once more at what I’ve been missing, although I seldom think to clean my glasses myself.
I can go for days at a time, navigating the driveway and the desk and the dinner table while the dull, gray film of existence slowly coats my vision, a change so subtle I don’t perceive it. And then my wife intervenes, noticing the smudges in front of my eyes. She’s aware of my predicament because while I’m dumbly watching the world, she’s making the time to watch me.
This is what our marriage has been like, as I see the world as I assume it to be, and my wife nudges me into seeing what I’ve overlooked. Maybe that’s what any good marriage is — two partners enlarging each other’s sense of what it means to be alive.
I’ve been thinking about this the past few days, as the store aisles bloom with their usual bumper crop of cardboard hearts and crimson greeting cards for Valentine’s Day. With any luck, an annual winter holiday devoted to passion can remind us of what it was like to fall in love.
What I remember most from my early days of courtship was another form of sharpened vision — the feeling that everything was warmer, more vivid, more brilliant than before I found a life mate.
That was years ago, before the rituals of housekeeping and parenthood mellowed my marriage into a habit. It’s been easy to forget that first flush of discovery, the gift of knowing that my life could comfortably fit within the folds of someone else’s.
Valentine’s Day honors the grand expressions of romance — the bouquets, the chocolates, the candlelit dinners and overnight getaways. They’re all good things, relieving breaks from the cycle of routine my wife and I welcome as much as any other couple.
But habit, I’ve learned, can be its own form of affection — the small gestures, practiced again and again, that stitch by tiny stitch sew one person into another.
Or so I’m reminded each time my wife cleans my glasses, and I look at her again, as if for the first time.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.