A lifetime of showing 'I love you'

"I luh, luh, luh, love you."

As St. Valentine's Day pops up each year, a lot of married couples remember when they reached that exact point in their relationship. Whispering those three small words for the first time was no small feat. Especially if you were the first to say them and there was a seemingly endless pause before you heard a reply.

On the other hand, way back when, there seemed to be no problem showing how you felt. Your thoughtfulness, your concern and your little acts of kindness spoke volumes.

As the years go by, the declaration and reply can become almost automatic and even abbreviated ("Love ya" and "Yeah. Me, too."), and the actions shift, too. Day to day, it isn't candy or flowers that convey the sentiment.

For instance, when the honeymoon is a distant memory and the house has been "invaded" by little people, "I love you" can be:

- Getting up in the middle of the night with the baby when it isn't your turn.

- Not griping about going to parent-teacher conference night alone because your spouse is staying home after barely surviving a long, hard day at work.

- Making a point of sitting next to your honey in a family room that's crowded with ... family.

And when those little ones (suddenly!) become teens, "I love you" can include:

- Presenting a united front when it comes to laying down the law with those adolescents and enforcing the consequences when they break those rules.

- Volunteering to slide into the passenger seat next to your student driver and help the rookie practice. (An experience one parent we know always referred to as "the white-knuckle flight.")

- Continuing to set aside a "date night" with each other, no matter how challenging it is to schedule.

Then those young adults are off to college or work and the nest is empty. Then "I love you" can be:

- Letting your spouse make the final decision on how the now-spare bedroom will be used. (Home office vs. huge TV on the far wall and mammoth recliner, for example.)

- Taking the time, and spending the money, to go on that trip to Europe or the Bahamas or China.

- Eating sensibly and getting enough exercise (without grumbling about either) because you know it's good for both of you.

Later still, when your children have children and there's no denying you're beyond middle age, "I love you" can be:

- Showing you see beyond the wrinkles, age spots, gray hair (or no hair) and are still dazzled by those familiar eyes, the ones that captivated you decades ago.

- Fulfilling the pledge you made at your wedding about loving and helping your spouse "in sickness and in health."

- Holding that familiar hand as one or the other of you prepares to leave this world, to leave each other's side ... for a time.

And through all the years, retelling the story, remembering the moment, of that first "I love you" from so long ago. And saying it once again.

Bill and Monica Dodds, whose website is FSJC.org, are the founders of the Friends of St. John the Caregiver and editors of My Daily Visitor magazine.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970