The Ordinary Stories I Tell



“Tell me a love story,” they say.

My two little girls are obsessed with princes and princesses and stories ending in marriage and a kiss. They want to hear about a man and a woman and a beautiful, fluffy white dress. They want there to be a dangerous and evil villian and a daring rescue of some sort.

They are at least open to the idea of the princess rescuing the prince. They really prefer if everyone rescues each other.

I have no tales with dragons in them, but I do know about a love where you choose to rescue each other.

But the stories I tell are too ordinary for these wild girls of mine. The details too mundane. The love story I am living fights the dragons of hurry and ordinary life.

The girls, perhaps, are too young to understand the romantic gestures of a PhD student and his writer-by-night wife. They understand the big save of a white knight with a sword, but underestimate the power of the words, “You look exhausted, I’ll put the kids to bed tonight.” They don’t understand the sacrifice it takes to answer the follow up, “You sure?” with “Yes. I am sure. Go upstairs and go to bed.”

I have no tales of magic powers.

I only know of the sacrifice it takes to roll over in bed for the fourth or fifth time when one of the kids has woken up again, the sacrifice it takes to say, again, “Go back to sleep. I got it. You have a big day tomorrow.”

The best story of self-sacrifice I have is the one where the wife says “I no longer love my job, but I will stick it out until your dream of a degree is over.” And the husband says to the wife, “It is scary for me, that you following your calling is severely changing the life plans, but I trust you know the voice of God. I value your obedience and your happiness over the sense of security staying would grant us.”

My students are reading Romeo and Juliet. We start with a guide that asks the same big questions the play does—about life and love and falling for one another. The students tell me they are not sure if teenagers can be in love or not. I like to tell them about my grandparents, about how my Grampy gave my Grammy her first corsage when they were headed to their first high school dance at 15. It was a yellow rose. I discovered this fact at my Grammy’s funeral, where my Grampy insisted on being the only one who payed for the gorgeous spray of yellow roses resting on her casket. I can’t help but believe he loved her right from the beginning. How could he not? How could she not have returned that love?

We read the play and stop often, me doing my best to bring those ancient words to life. Lately my students have taken to describing Romeo as “emo” and rolling their eyes at his fickle heart. They are a little disappointed in Juliet, how she just readily laps up everything Romeo has to say. But also, they arrive early and ask if they can read those parts. They don’t believe in a Romeo and Juliet kind of love, but they also want it to happen to them.

Sometimes they ask me how I knew my husband was “the one.” And I have no romantic grand and sweeping stories to tell. Only the one of us slipping on the ice the only snow day we ever got in college. How funny we both thought it was and how easily we still laugh with each other.

I tell them the story of a 19-year-old freshman in college and a 20-year-old junior in an Oldsmobile facing a crappy college apartment complex. Of two people not ready for the enormity of love they are in. “I think you’re the one,” he said. “Me too,” she said. “But I am a freshman so let’s not talk about it.” They didn’t for awhile, but over the summer the physical distance provided the space to suss it out together.

They were engaged the next semester.

My students and my children want love stories with grand gestures. But those are not the love stories I tell, because they are not the love stories I have.

Instead, I tell of ordinary kindness and self-sacrfice chosen over and over again. I tell of laughter and listening and really paying attention to the heartbeat of another person’s life. I do not tell tales of one sweeping the other off their feet. Instead, I tell of mutual respect and two people choosing to align their feet to the same path even if that means more twists and turns and sometimes slow going.

I tell love stories that I have lived, and seen lived, beautifully and imperfectly and completely ordinary.