This I Believe

Carlyn - Thomasville, Georgia
Entered on March 12, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: illness

I believe, quite simply, in taking out the trash. Not only the trash in the cans around the office or home, but the trash we keep in our heart.

My husband and I have been happily married for five years. We have two beautiful children, great jobs, occasional dates and vacations, and rare moments when we realize without any prompting that we are happy. Satisfied. Content and peaceful. But there is one area in which we fight and that’s the trash. Who will take it out tonight? Who took it out last night? What to keep…and what to throw away? These exchanges keep us tangled up until one of us relents and takes out the trash. But sometimes there are lingering effects of hurt or blame, and these are like forgotten leftovers in the fridge—they smell after awhile and maybe even rot.

My friend Dana is thoughtful and wise. When I told her about our trash problem, she laughed and told me a story about her husband she lost to Alzheimer’s several years ago. Apparently he was a stickler about cleanliness and taking out the trash “before the smell took over the house.” One night before the disease had gotten too bad, she woke up and found him outside sitting in their huge green trashcan.

“Larry,” she said, “What are you doing in there?”

“I took out the trash and decided to wait until the man came to get it,” he said.

“But Larry,” she said, “The man doesn’t come for three days! You can’t stay in there.”

To which he replied, “Dana, I’ll wait. It’s important to take out the trash. Remember that.”

Dana said she was ignorant at the time of Alzheimer’s and was just mad at Larry. All through the next week she chided him for being so strange and foolish. Now she regrets her behavior, but she’s also grown enough to laugh about it. She said she took his words to heart—and that trash can be anything she accumulates that isn’t good or useful to her. “For so long, I blamed myself about his illness,” she told me.

“Like I could have done more to help him or save him. But I realized I had to let that go. I had to put those feelings in the trash. And every day, I have to take them out.”

After talking to Dana, I thought about my responsibility in the trash fight. I thought about our chore scorecard and the resentments building. So I went home, wrote my feelings on a paper labeled “scorecard” and promptly threw it in the trash. Then I took it out. My husband and I don’t fight about whose turn it is anymore, and if we fight about anything, we’re soon to make up and set our sights on the bigger priorities of letting go and loving on.