Stephen Covey, author best known for Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, died this week of complications stemming from a bike accident. Covey frequently spoke about the legacy each of us leaves behind. For me, one of the most powerful parts of his legacy is a story he shared of a man who came up to him after a speech:
“My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?” “The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked. “That’s right,” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?” “Love her,” I replied. “I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.” “Love her.” “You don’t understand. the feeling of love just isn’t there.” “Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.” “But how do you love when you don’t love?” “My friend, love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”Are you willing to do that? The first time I read that story I was in that Bitter Little Wife stage of military life. I was mad because my sailor was gone all the time. I was mad when he worked long hours. I was mad when he was away on work ups. I was mad when he deployed. How much love can you feel when you are that mad all the time? Not too much.
Then I read Covey. I could almost feel my brain spin on its axis. You were supposed to love-as-a-verb your partner all the time? Love was something you were supposed to just do whether you felt it or not? Love was some kind of git-er-done thing. Like taking a shower. Like brushing your teeth. You loved your partner and then those actions made you feel love. Really??
Strange thing was, it worked. Love and service and sacrifice and empathy and appreciation tend to yield the same things in return. At least, that is the way it happened for me. Fair winds and following seas, Stephen Covey. Thanks for everything.