My friend Debbie regaled a gathering at her home with the tale of her daughter’s recent engagement. The story of the young suitor’s quest to make the proposal a Hallmarkesque event complete with violins and every last red rose in the tri-county area was punctuated with sighs in the crowd as the largely female audience swooned in jealousy. “There is nothing like young love” one guest remarked shooting a glace in the direction of her suddenly sub par spouse. While her sentiment was certainly shared with the crowd, and I dare say with our society at large, I would have to disagree. While there is much to be said about the dizzy, breathless, euphoric world of infatuation that is ‘young love’, to me there is nothing like an old love.
As a teenager, I was fortunate enough to witness the true essence of mature love. I was on the sidewalk when an elderly couple came out of a store. The husband, frail and trembling, set aside his own walker to assist his wife off the curb and into the car. He opened the door as she held out her hand. He reached up and took it without even looking as if this were a dance they had performed thousands of times. He waited patiently for her to be situated and comfortable, said something that made her smile, then closed the door taking care not the catch her dress. Then he took the few unsteady steps back to his walker and began the slow journey around to the driver’s side of the car. I was so struck by the tender nature of this seemingly mundane event that I carry the memory with me today down to the very last detail; the yellow flowers on her dress, the sound of people talking nearby, the smell of the hot summer breeze, all color in the background whenever I picture the sweetness of that moment.
Now, so many years later, armed with the knowledge of exactly how blessed I am in this day and age to have a marriage that can be measured in decades, I think I have only begun to appreciate the depth of the love so evident between that elderly couple. ‘Young love’ is demonstrated in grand gestures, like a peacock displaying its feathers, it is all for show because there is so little behind the façade. Old love is like a cherished novel complete with several chapters of back story and layer upon layer of character development. It is a thick and complicated tale of the shaping of two hearts. The story of a relationship takes time to write and nothing can hasten the pace.
What none of us realize when starting out together is how very small the truly meaningful things can seem at the time. When I look back at our years together, it’s not the flowers or ‘I love you’s’ that stands out, it’s the time my husband drove around at night in a rain storm to find a replacement for a lost toy when our child was sick with the flu, and how, despite the menagerie of stuffed animals that populated our daughter’s room, he came home with an identical pink bear. Years from now I might not recall anniversary gifts or romantic dinners, but I will never forget how he insisted I quit that horrible job even though we both knew how much we needed the money right then.
Yes, young love can be a giddy, thrill ride but I wouldn’t trade even one evening of just sitting on the couch together watching TV and laughing at the exact same time. It isn’t the grand and seemingly romantic gestures that matter in the end. Someday I will hold my hand out and I know he’ll be there to take it.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.