I still remember the first time I stared into the eyepiece of a microscope and spotted an amoeba. How curious: the way it shapeshifted, slip-sliding about in search of tasty bacteria.
Although the metaphor is strained, that image of a cell swelling and shrinking came to mind as I thought about the morphing of love.
My wife, Nita, and I were married in 1968. In those early years, we were inseparable. We slept, worked, and played together—tethered by the tug of young love.
In my quest to share everything with my new bride, I was determined to teach her how to waterski. It did not go well. Nita defines swimming as “staying alive in the water.” Although she was a trooper, she was hardly amphibious.
Ten years later, our relationship began to shapeshift. We learned we could not expect the other to perfectly satisfy all our interests. I was captivated by theater, music, and mountain climbing. Nita was intrigued by gardening, reading, and birding. As a result, our networks expanded. I had climbing buddies; Nita had birding friends—and we came to realize social expansion was healthy. There was never jealousy or loneliness, only mutual support.
More shapeshifting unfolded through the years, but the most prominent evolution for me occurred five years ago when Nita was diagnosed with a neurological disorder. I still remember the day she returned from her doctor’s appointment.
“I have Parkinson’s Disease,” she said in a whisper.
I looked into her eyes, which were lustered with concern. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” she said in her typically serene, heroic manner. Then, in classic Nita form, she added, “I’m wondering if you’re okay?”
I smiled. “Honey, how could I not be okay? You’re the love of my life, in sickness and health.”
In time, Nita had difficulty buttoning a blouse or opening a jar or latching a necklace. Naturally, she’d call on me for help.
And here’s the greatest shapeshift of all. I never imagined I could love Nita more. But when she asks for help—without the slightest hesitation, without a trace of embarrassment—my heart swells. She trusts me, knowing I would never respond with a grimace. Why would I? On the contrary, I feel exalted when she asks for a hand. It’s a gif t: my chance to give to her what she has model for me for over a half century. Unconditional love.
Strangely, our shapeshifting has come full circle, returning us to the early days when we were inseparable. I’m smiling, even now as I think about the bookends of our lives.
Biologists tell us amoebas sometimes aggregate into multi-cell groups called “social amoebas” in search of food. They are not fused into one mega cell. They retain their own identity, working shoulder to shoulder (if they had shoulders) in order to survive.
Likewise, Nita and I have pooled our individual strengths—Nita’s grace, my will—to navigate life’s challenges. We still sleep, work, and play together; we just do it with even greater love, greater devotion one for the other.
ABOUT THE IMAGE: Nita and I have lived for several years in France. This photograph was taken at Île de Ré, a sleepy island in the Atlantic just off the mid-western coast of France near La Rochelle.