Sacred, Ordinary Love

Ken and I have a playlist of Sunday songs. It’s only 45 minutes long, it’s called “Literally Just Sunday,” and we listen to it every Sunday morning. There are only two rules for any song to be on the playlist:

  1. It must mention Sunday somewhere in the lyrics, and
  2. It has to feel like a Sunday morning.

We came up with the idea shortly before we got married, when I joked that we should make a themed playlist for every day of the week. We tried, but the Bangles’ “Manic Monday”, and “Taco Tuesday” by Lil Jon just didn’t have lasting power. Plus, there’s a surprising lack of good Thursday songs (perhaps a hole in the market, for the entrepreneurial among you).

But Sunday stuck. And now, a year and a half in, just the opening chords of “Sunday Candy” by Chance the Rapper, or the first five seconds of “Sunday Morning” by the Velvet Underground, take me to a magical place: the eighty-plus Sunday mornings we’ve had since our wedding.

As soon as I hear this music, I see Ken smiling on the balcony, squinting into the sun as we have breakfast on a June morning. Or I think of eating pancakes together as light illuminates the last traces of smoke trailing out the window (one of the downsides of an open floor plan: slightly burnt pancakes in the kitchen mean smoke in the rest of the house). I see Ken bring me coffee as I read on the couch; I remember us dancing on the living room rug.

When I look at the past year and a half of our life together, Sundays are a step out of time; a nudge away from the timeline of the rest of our lives. A golden thread through this year; one where living is temporarily easy and unhurried, where our most sacred, ordinary memories live.

This is love at work: making the most normal moments feel almost profound. And at the same time, love can take the hardest moments of your life and turn them into the ordinary, everyday act of survival. It gilds the simplest highs, and breaks down the hardest moments into small steps. Left foot, right foot. And again.

I know this act of love intimately, because Ken got sick this year. First, in April, he got COVID (or, so we think: at that time, tests were reserved for those admitted to the ICU). This had been my worst nightmare when the coronavirus first made landfall in the Netherlands; Ken’s MS put him at a higher risk for a bad outcome, but it was too early to know to what extent. In the beginning, when he began running up a fever and coughing, I was almost blind with panic. But when it got worse, I became hyper-focused. I jotted down symptoms and oximeter readings, and called his doctors for advice. Left foot, right foot. And again.

Luckily, Ken recovered within a few weeks, and within a month we were back to running outside (trying to get our lung capacity up) and breakfasts on the balcony. But this turned out to be a trial run. In August, Ken’s MS symptoms became the center of a new storm. Here’s something I wrote at that time:

Today he mentioned again that he’s been having trouble swallowing, which is a precursor to speech issues for many people with MS. He’s been worrying about it for weeks without feeling like he could tell me.

This is the weird thing about loving and being loved while sick: we are always trying to protect each other. He doesn’t want me to worry, so he bears the weight himself. I see him struggle and worry anyway, but don’t want to tell him because I don’t want him to feel like a burden. MS becomes a specter in our home, a hidden current running through our lives.

Every new symptom, every way we see the disease progress, feels like watching the road beneath us change shape and direction.

When he tells me [about the new symptoms], I feel a rush of fear and sadness wash over my whole body. I try to keep my face open, steady, calm.

In some ways I feel so woefully unequipped to help him through this. What do you do, when the one you love is sick? How do you keep all the bravery and strength you save for them, and all the fear and grief you feel, in one body?

I can’t tell you the how, but I can tell you that we did it. Once again, our world became very small. Our goals for the day were limited to “get dressed” and “make an appointment.” Left foot, right foot. In the end, love makes it simple. You just get through.

We’re on the other side of that storm now. After a few months of tweaking medications, Ken is back to his usual self. Fortunately, the swallowing issues turned out to be mostly caused by anxiety from his medication, and not by MS itself. We’re back to our normal, again listening to our Sunday music and laughing late into the night. And, looking back at the past year of our life together, I’m realizing something strange for the first time.

Those worst times — the ones that, in the moment, feel almost insurmountably hard — in hindsight, they almost disappear. They’re not what stands out to me when I look back at the past year. What stands out to me are the Sundays, with the light streaming in through the curtains. The smallest, most ordinary moments: that’s our life.

When I think about Sundays as that step out of time, I’m reminded of the word kairos. The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos, meaning chronological time, and kairos, meaning the opportune moment for action. In Christian theology, kairos is the term sometimes used to refer to “God’s time.” While chronos is quantitative and sequential, kairos is in some way qualitative and permanent; it exists separate from the rest of life. It’s not human, but sacred time.

Our Sunday playlist has taken our most ordinary moments and turned them into sacred time. And in doing so, I’ve realized that all my most precious memories are this way. My favorite memories with my brother are a simple walk around the block when he was 10, and late-night drives to Wawa singing High School Musical together. My favorite memories with my mom are us sitting in the backyard with coffee during high school, talking about writing. And my favorite moments with Ken are these Sundays, on the balcony, in the living room, or slowly waking up together.

This realization is what’s given the past year, much of which was spent at home, its own joy and importance. This morning, Ken made me laugh about something small — a weird noise he could make with his stomach when he jumped up and down (marriage is nothing like what they tell you). We both started laughing, and suddenly, I had that feeling: like we were adding a small, golden moment to our Sundays-out-of-time.

This, in all its ordinariness, is us. It’s not the weddings or the doctor’s visits. This is kairos. This is our life.

If you’d like to join us in our Sunday morning kairos, here’s the playlist. Best served with laughter and slightly burnt pancakes.

Sara Laughed

Hey hey! I'm Sara, an American writer living in the Netherlands and working as a product manager.

  1. Peter says:

    Where’s the like button? Starting monday (you know I like your playlists), I’ll give your playlist a listen, or is that a faux pas? šŸ˜‰

    1. Sara Laughed says:

      If you press the Spotify icon in the top right, it should open the playlist in the Spotify app, where you can like it. And you’re welcome to listen anytime, but I think the magic only works on Sundays… šŸ˜‰

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