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Opinion

PAPERWORK: Those small things can be really big things

Do we need patterns?

I look at the shirt I am wearing now. A flannel with a pattern of blue lines criss-crossing across a background of white.

Kind of what you'd expect in flannel. But here's the thing ... if one of those blue lines — just one line — was red or orange or yellow, it wouldn't work. Just one line out of place by color or size or shape would not work.

Patterns, you see, are pleasing to the eye. Perhaps I should use the word comfortable. Or balanced. Stable. Safe. Predictable. Compatible.

We live our lives in patterns. I don't want to use the word "habits." Because patterns suggest purposeful design, and I do think we try to create and control the patterns we follow each day.

At least we like to think we are in control. Which is easy to believe because we are comfortable with our patterns.

Until we are not.

Here I sit thinking about patterns. Because over the weekend my wife and I celebrated our anniversary.

Celebrated? Well, not our usual dinner out and gifts and cards. In a pandemic world, patterns are broken.

We had decided to circle the wagons, which pretty much describes this whole year.

No dining out. No gifts. No cards ... until there was one. From my bride.

Picture a young boy and girl cuddling in one of those red, toy cars pedaling down a sidewalk.

Inside: "It's not where you're going ... it's who you're with."

Perfect. We've been pedaling together for 39 years ... 34 of those years married.

But not perfect. I had given no card. (I made one for her birthday. Why not this time?) And suddenly the no gift thing didn't seem right either.

I clearly broke an important pattern. Much more important than a card or gift.

Suddenly there's a huge orange stripe in the shirt.

So here I am thinking about 34 years of marriage and the patterns we have created.

So many are simple, designed to get us from point A to point Z, from a.m. to p.m.

We eat and sleep and work at the same times most every day. Our time together is inserted between all this — also at the usual times each day.

Like most couples, I think, we are comfortable with the overall pattern. The big picture.

That would be the cute couple of kids in the toy car. Together. Pedaling forward in time.

Key word: together. But when I look at our patterns I see we revolve around each other a lot but we are not always together. Actually with each other (and awake).

And that's OK. It is still our pattern. We designed it. A partnership.

There are times are patterns do not mesh. She does her thing. I do mine.

Couples worry about that now and then. The fear of drifting apart. No common interests.

I think that's normal. We all get tired of patterns sometimes. Wonder whether we should change them. How to blend them.

That's a good thing. Part of a good partnership, which most know is not as easy as it sounds.

But that is also the reason why those smaller patterns need attention. Why the times we actually are together have heightened importance.

Yes, pay attention to those patterns. They become like those jigsaw puzzle pieces you put together first. The edge pieces that hold the big picture together. Clenching the overall pattern.

Together, the smaller patterns become linchpins, they build the bond.

Which is why they need attention. Why you don't let anniversaries slide by as just another day.

Why you at least make sure there's a card ... and a gift. And many moments that count more than others.

This is what confirms that the big picture is still pleasing to the eye. The pattern still works, still fits.

Like a comfortable shirt.

LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the retired managing editor of The Times. Email to lonnyjcain@gmail.com or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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