when i first understood the meaning of love.

{ Once upon a time I decided to enter the Real Simple Writing Contest. Back in July, I scribbled down a few sentences, and then forgot all about said contest until yesterday, when I was reminded via Twitter that the deadline is TODAY. Fail. I meant to work on it over the past two months, but clearly I'm out of time. This wasn't good enough to submit to the contest, but I hope you enjoy the story anyways. } .................................

I tend to believe that our life stories, in all of their imperfect and complicated glory, can ultimately be defined by a series of moments. Unforgettable fractions of time where the world stands still and we realize something we’ve never fully understood before that instant. Love. Friendship. Trust. Sure, there are first kisses and “I do’s” and the day you bring your son or daughter home from the hospital. These are the recognized moments—the dates on the calendars, the occasions for greeting cards, and the specific flashes of time forever carved into your memory. You remember the details, like the pale pink dress you were wearing, soft to the touch, and how the room smelled of lavender. These are the stories you can’t wait to tell your children about, so they can tell their children some day.

And then there are the other kinds of moments—the unexpected epiphanies that sneak into our daily, mundane routines, almost always without warning.

This is a story about one of those.

It was 10:00am on a Monday morning and my foot was falling asleep under my desk. I tried to focus on my inbox, but couldn’t stop my mind from wandering. In exactly two weeks, my husband and I would be in Greece, checking the number one item off our pre-baby bucket list. All that was standing between us and Santorini were two weeks of work. Well, that and my family reunion in Arkansas. Our combined sixteen days of travel could not possibly be more different---starting with three days in the boonies, and ending with twelve days in paradise.

My daydreams were interrupted by a beep from my cell phone. It was a text from Brett.

"I’m starting to really panic about my dad. I wonder if I should skip the family reunion and spend the weekend with him instead..."

My husband's father, who suffers from dementia, was scheduled to move into a full-time care facility the same week we would be in Greece.

Without skipping a beat, I texted him back, "Don't go. I'll be fine. I'll cancel your flight."

I mentally reassured myself that I could survive three days in Arkansas with extended relatives, sans husband. Images of banjos, cows, and old people filled my mind, as I took a deep breath. I would be fine. I would be fine.

My phone beeped again.

"I have never loved you more in a single moment than I do right now."

I read the text again. And again. Tears stung my eyes as I pictured the relief settling into Brett's heart at that moment. What had I really done? Not thrown a tantrum? Not given him a guilt trip for sending me to Arkansas alone? It was nothing that he wouldn't have done for me had the situation been reversed. Then again, Brett has always been the least selfish one in our relationship, and, if I'm being honest, probably always will be. Selflessness comes naturally to Brett, whereas I have to work at it. Constantly.

After seven years together, that was perhaps the first instinctual, pure act of selflessness that I had ever shown Brett. An act that carried him home from work so happy, he picked me up the minute he walked through the door, twirled me around in the air, and kissed me harder than he had ever kissed me before.

"I love you, do you know that?" he smiled.

"I love you too, B."

On that day, after seven years together and thousands of I love you's later, I had never been so sure of what that word truly meant. I wasn't wearing a ballgown, and the room didn't smell of lavender. It all happened over three simple text messages on a Monday morning.

The meaning of love snuck into my cubicle unannounced, in between my inbox and another yawn...