Sometimes a situation may be unavoidably unfair for one spouse at the moment and months or even years later the situation may be reversed. Even if it never changes love signs on for the whole trip whether it’s good or bad. Often I hear people say that a marriage is a “fifty-fifty” deal. With all of the score keeping, and arguments about what’s fair and not fair, this turns a loving relationship into a constant battle.
“Quid pro quo,” is Latin for “something for something.” It’s a kind of business relationship. You give me merchandise and I’ll give you money. Everyone loves a bargain and constantly try to get the best of the deal. All of business and most of life between people is based on this principle. However, love is not a “quid pro quo” search for a bargain.
I was blessed years ago to watch my aunt and uncle live out a different kind of relationship. My Aunt Alyeene was a wonderful sophisticated lady who had a laugh like liquid sunshine. Her personality reminded me of a sparkling brook singing and splashing its way down the mountain. She was the very soul of warmth, love and kindness.
My Uncle was totally different. He came up hard, struggling and working for everything he ever had. He was a salesman, and had little success and one morning they got up and divided a single egg for breakfast. They prayed, as usual, for God to change things for them. Shortly after that harsh experience he got a wonderful opportunity that made them very well off financially. He had a kind and generous heart, but growing up in an orphanage left him painfully insensitive to the struggles of other people.
They didn’t have any children. Aunt Alyeene and the Bankers wife went down to the poorest section of town where they lived. They rented an old building, cleaned and fixed it up, and had something very much like a joyous picnic with the poor kids. They washed them, gave them decent clothes, fed them, and mixed in with all of the fun had a little unstructured conversation about Jesus and the Christian Faith. Many of those kids heard their first prayer while being lovingly held on the lap of these two beautiful ladies. They never talked about it, but I later learned that they had sent several of those kids through college. No, their name wasn’t on a plaque anywhere, and they were never given any kind of special recognition. They just quietly practiced the Christian faith knowing that Jesus knew what they were doing. They would take Debbie our small daughter to the park, or to the store and buy her something special. Uncle Love teased my daughter Debbie by calling her “snigger fritz.” They both gave her plenty of very special love and affection. Often they would take us out to eat, but our favorite place was where they served delicious sweet watermelon by the slice. We sat outdoors at a wooden picnic table overlooking the river. We would all laugh, tell funny stories, and whatever troubles we had would simply disappear for a while. My uncle didn’t have a first name, just the initials AB. His last name was Love. He was a hard working, very successful investment broker, and later added real estate sales to his office. Uncle Love was a devout Christian, honest and sincere and at times showed great kindness and love. He was often full of fun and laughter. At other times he could be very passionate about what he believed or thought, and sometimes I felt like he was a little too harsh, inconsiderate and stern. My aunt explained that he really didn’t mean to be unkind. It was just hard to get away from the toughness he developed as a child in an orphanage trying to survive and protect his little brother. Sometimes Aunt Alyeene would tell him that He was wrong. She did it with such kindness and love that almost always he would agree with her. He would often try to explain his motives for something he had said or done and wind up with tears in his eyes saying, “I’m sorry.” I loved them both but sometimes I felt that their relationship was unfair because my aunt had to give in so often. I marveled at her ability to do it with such grace and kindness. Growing up in South Carolina she had all of the charm and grace of a true southern lady.
She loved him and seemed genuinely happy trying to please him and refused to complain about the unfairness. She simply accepted it as one of those things that couldn’t be changed. So we also forgot about it and their home was a warm and pleasant place to visit. Later when we moved to Atlanta they would often come to see us. We would sit up until late at night having a snack with the left over supper. It was usually something entirely southern like buttermilk and warm cornbread, pinto beans or whatever was available. We forgot about time while we laughed, told stories, and again our troubles did their disappearing act. Then one day a small stroke like a thief took away some of her memory and then more and more as time went on. They came to see us again and we knew that something was very different. We took her to the best specialist in Atlanta, but after exhaustive test they gave us the gloomy news that nothing could be done. The problem would just get worse as time went on. The doctors told us that she must have been having little “mini stokes” in her brain. This was before the discovery of Alzheimer’s disease.
For month’s uncle Love took care of her at home. Incident after incident warned him that she couldn’t stay by herself while he worked. One day the highway patrol called him and said they had picked her up, walking down the middle of a four-lane highway. She had a shopping bag, a few clothes in it, and said she was going from Decatur Alabama, to her home in South Carolina.
Uncle Love knew it was no longer possible to take care of her and he tearfully placed her in a nursing home. For over five years she was unable to give or contribute anything but sorrow and disappointment to him. No, it wasn’t fair that he slept on the floor of her room until they could get him a small folding cot. He was well into his 80’s but he refused to leave her alone even for a day. No, it wasn’t fair that he felt he had to get someone to come stay with her while he made a quick trip to the barber and took care of some business. There was nothing fair about the days that rolled into months and years as he sat by her bedside and fed her. Every day he read the bible and other literature to a silent, sad and unresponsive woman. She didn’t look pretty anymore with her hair cut off and her total unconcern for her appearance. But, it didn’t seem to matter as he loved her by cheerfully holding her hand, laughed and kissed her. It wasn’t fairness that kept him by her bedside every day for over five years. It was love. When she died he seemed strangely comforted by the fact that he had never forsaken her or stopped loving her. Just one month after we buried her we had the sad experience of coming back to attend his funeral. Remembering them is like panning for gold. I don’t think much about what was fair or unfair. I wash those memories around and around and in the pan and I can see mixed in with the rough brown sand bright flashes of sunshine on the pure gold of unselfish love.
A bargain of mutual self-interest would have never survived the trials of their life together. But their love for each other was strong enough to suffer long “with kindness”. They both had it and life gave each of them a special time to use it. (Ist Cor 13:4) “Love suffers long and is kind.”