There is a certain beauty that exists in a relationship that spans time. It is like a boat that joins with its sails to journey across the twists and turns of wind and water, managing to go the distance from shore to shore. There are days when the water is still and the breeze pleasant, and days when the wind challenges the boat to stay afloat.
Though emotionally-charged love is sweet and affections merry, there is nothing more beautiful than committed love. The portrait of a friendship, relationship, or family that has persevered and remains together until the distant shore is in view inspires generations, as it promotes companionship that does not fragment, or break, despite the storm.
There was a picture of this kind of love that I witnessed when I was a young college student working at a home for the elderly. I had just been promoted to design coordinator of activities for the Alzheimer's unit. Every day, I would delight in taking the residents for walks and playing games that would increase their recall. Though much of what they expressed did not make sense, there was an occasional whisper or gesture of the life they once lived or the memories they yearned to carry with them. One woman would play the piano for me, or write recipes for oatmeal cookies, noting that it was very important to keep them in the oven a few extra minutes. Another former college professor would hold my hand and repeat amazing history lectures while cursing as he lost his way across the campus.
Each one was special to me in their own way, but there was one man that stood out. Previously, he had owned and operated a major company in the area. At the point that I met him, however, he had no recognition of the people in his family and had completely lost the ability to take care of himself. He would wander around the unit with no response to his name, which he no longer knew. I had seen this in other residents. Eventually, the family would stop visiting, as it was too painful to see their loved one not know who they were or be able to act in even the simplest aspects of their own personality that made them the unique person they remembered.
This man's story was different. Every day, his wife would faithfully come through the doors right before his bedtime and stay until he went to sleep. I watched her attempt to hold his hand as he would move away, as if she were a stranger. My heart hurt to see her face fall each time he turned the other way, yet she continued night after night to come and go through the same motions. One night my curiosity got the best of me. As she was walking out the door, I stopped her and asked her how she did it. How did she go through one of the most painful experiences of rejection and loss every night? She turned to me and said, "I want to tell you something that you don't see."
She told me about the day they got married and said their vows of commitment to love each other in sickness and in health till death do they part. She went on to share that every night before they went to bed they would turn to each other and whisper "I do" to affirm again the vows that they made to each other. The woman described many nights that it was difficult to do this as they experienced arguments or hard times, yet through furrowed brow or crossed arms they would find a way to whisper these two words of commitment. Tears gathered in her eyes as she looked up at me and said, "That is why I come every night. He does not seem to know me or remember my name, yet as he gets into bed, I pull up his cover and he looks me in the eyes and whispers, 'I do.'"
It is a choice to persevere and sail on. Yet when a boat finds a place to dock on the other shore after a long journey, the sun sets on a beautiful portrait of commitment that has endured even the greatest odds. This is love.
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