Evidently there are certain factors that will either add to or subtract from any relationship's chances of longevity. Unwanted behaviours, shared values, that kind of thing. On Saturday night my husband and I had an argument, which, at a guess, shaved six months off us. Handing him a bowl of chips and a platter of raw carrot sticks, capsicum strips and cucumber batons, I asked him to place them on the table. Could you move them closer to the corner, I asked, on seeing he'd put them in the middle. Why, he asked. So the kids can reach them, I said. That's stupid, he said. Please, I said. Nah, he said. Arrgghh, I roared, why do you always have to be so pig-headed? And why do you always have to be such a control freak, he muttered. I hate you, I shrieked as our guests rang the doorbell.
Then on Sunday my husband and I had a discussion, which, at a guess, recouped us those six months plus gained us 18 more. About to turn 13, our son has been thinking long and hard about how he wants to mark the occasion. Small? Big? Girls and boys? Just boys?He's been going round and round in circles for months. Finally he presented his plan to us. What about all those guys, I asked. Yeah, said my husband, and some of your other old mates? But, said, our son, they won't know anyone. It doesn't matter, I said. No, said my husband, it doesn't. It's about loyalty, I said. Duty, said my husband. Our son groaned. And we looked at each other with more affection and lust than we'd felt in weeks.
It was when eavesdropping on a conversation between a friend and my husband a few weeks back that I was initially reminded of his highly developed sense of duty. She asked him how he felt about the regular outings on which he takes an often vocally unthankful elderly relative. I don't feel I have a choice, he said. That's not true, she said. Many people wouldn't. I couldn't live with myself, he said.
As humans it's our duty to help a stranger in need. As citizens to vote. And as hosts to return someone's hospitality. Duty is important but it's not exactly sexy, and these days it's got a downright old-fashioned ring to it. No one boasts of being dutiful. We like to think of ourselves as passionate, subversive even. And we would far rather talk about love. About being motivated by it, cooking with it, working for it. Social media heaves with examples of beautiful people sharing examples of their photogenic love.
I frequently visit my grandmother. Never a chore, her welcome is always warm, her embrace generous, her tins full of home baking. She lives independently, however is lucky to live next to my aunt, who helps her as needed and with whom she enjoys a close friendship. My aunt having gone overseas on a long-overdue trip, this past month it has fallen to the rest of the family to fill the hole created by her absence. And so it was, several Saturday mornings ago, that I found myself crossing the harbour bridge to my grandmother's house to help her shower. I was terrified. What would a 101-year-old body look like? (Bloody amazing, as it turned out.) I assumed she would be equally alarmed at me seeing her in such a vulnerable state. And I wondered how I would be able to put us both at ease. But all my anxiety was for nothing. She couldn't have cared less about being naked in front of her eldest granddaughter. And afterwards, as I dusted her off all over with great clouds of Johnson's Baby Powder, I thought that while it might have been duty that had driven me there, in the end it was love that filled me with this unspeakable joy.