My father doesn’t need to chop his own firewood. He has a sixty-five year old body, with aches and pains and strains. He can afford to have someone else chop down the wood. Yet, every November, he walks into the woods, returning hours later with truckloads of stackable wood. When I ask him why he chops his own wood, he responds with four words: “It’s what I do.”
Those four words stick with me. Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a reason for our actions. It seems that we all have something that we do without motive. We do it whether anyone is watching. We do it whether or not we can afford not to do it. We do it without an excuse.
And sometimes true intimacy means recognizing (and living with) the things our loved ones do. The little things we do for no apparent reason define our character. We will be remembered for the things that we do, whether or not we realize that we’re doing them. Perhaps we hum while we gargle. Perhaps we spin our wedding rings when we get nervous. Perhaps we eat the broth of the soup before we touch the noodles. Sometimes these things are major, other times, minor. Yet, recognizing these things in each other allows a closeness only achieved with time and attention.
For example, my mother is clueless to one thing which makes her memorable to loved ones. My mother ALWAYS brings a bag of assorted drinks and reading material on trips. Whether it’s a long or short trip, she’ll always pack a bag of iced tea bottles and random magazines. Even if she’s just driving down the street, she pack a Snapple iced tea and a Good Housekeeping magazine. She doesn’t realize that we notice, but it’s what she does, and it’s what we remember.
My husband saves bugs. He doesn’t talk about it often but he’ll bring a spider outside after cupping it in the kitchen. He’ll find a warm place for an ant during a February snowstorm. He’ll even dismiss a mosquito through a window before swatting it down. (For one whole week, we couldn’t use the upstairs sink because he knew a spider was making it a temporary home in the drain.) Saving insects is in his DNA. He won’t think twice about eating a cheeseburger, but he won’t let you hurt the fly circling it.
Even my dog Mabel has an ingrained behavior. She brings her plush rooster toy to the top of our stairwell every evening after dinner. She can be counted on like clockwork. There are no treats involved in this behavior, nor any human attention. Whether we’re watching or not, it’s what she does.
And for me? I have lots of habits. I only eat cereal in mugs. I’m superstitious about turning off my Ipod only after a positive lyric. (I’ll literally run another tenth of a mile until Blake Shelton says something happy.) And, I can’t go to sleep unless my hair is in a top ponytail. But the one thing I can’t NOT do is write.
It’s what I do.