If you haven’t read my January post, I’m choosing a new word every month for 2023 to explore through the lenses of the arts, family, wellness and wonder. I tried resisting the expected theme for February because it will be shouted from every corner and screen and store. But, after thinking about it for a while, and considering the recent political misuse of the words, love and hate, I thought I’d take a more honest look at love than what the loudest voices tell us. So here I bring you two true stories of love.
For those not familiar, I work part time at a retirement resort. Years ago, a couple from the WW II Generation came to live several apartments away from my desk. The man, O, had been a successful rancher. His once-baked skin and wiry body told everyone how hard he had worked. His wife, K, also worked hard, but from what I understand, served quite a bit of time in the kitchen feeding the men. She became ill in her later years, and was forced to slow down. They had to leave their ranch and move into a place where they didn’t have to work so hard at their day-to-day life. O, still sound in body and mind, in order to care for his wife, traded in his manly man spurs for an apron.
I didn’t get to know K very well—she stayed in her apartment most of the time, or at least the time I worked during the swing shift. But O, a product of a time where gender roles were set in stone, gave up his tough cowboy status for that of a caregiver. I can’t imagine it was easy for either of them. No one wants to be a burden, and no one wants to exchange their heroic storybook reputation for the role of what cultural assignments at that time called the duties of the “weaker”sex (Don’t get me started on the strength it takes to be a mother).
But he did it, and managed to keep a smile on his face. One of my favorite memories is when he shared with me a recipe for the perfect biscuits. He sacrificially loved his wife. It wasn’t his cowboy years that made him a man among men. It was the time he hefted that cross upon his shoulders and cared for his wife in the ways she used to care for others.
My second story brings us H and A.
H used to come out late at night. He was quiet and didn’t talk much to those of us at the desk, but he was friendly enough, and regularly carried his telescope outside to gaze at the stars. He was very patient with all the times we had to check on him after receiving complaints about “some strange man sitting outside in the dark.” Something about his bearing makes me think he’s of the intellectual variety. I don’t know what H or A’s earlier life consisted of, but everyone knows that H loves the stars.
It seemed that he declined fairly quickly, in body and mind. Recently, he had to move over to our unit for people with failing memories. A, as independent as she still is, chose to move with him into a much smaller, controlled, locked down area of our building.
I had never seen her join him on his starlit excursions before, but being the faithful leader that she is, she sometimes brings him through the building for walks after dark where large windows with great views are plentiful. We don’t normally see those suffering with memory loss able to venture out very far at night, but I would like to ask A sometime why she does it. Is it because it’s less busy then and easier for him to balance with his walker, or is she honoring his love for a good nightscape? Maybe both.
I don’t know who wore the jeans and who wore the slacks in their more active years, or if they are even each other’s first or second loves, but every so often, A patiently walks him around when the stars have winked to life. Even when she doesn’t realize she’s seen, I’ve heard kindness come out of her in spades.
It’s not easy for many women to become the protector of her husband. While women protect their children and, often, themselves (especially modern women), they don’t normally need to protect their husbands. But A has stepped into that role, as well as being his provider and gateway to his view of the night sky. And another thing—not every partner sticks around when their loved one begins to fade away. But A, in her great sacrifice and with tremendous grace, has heaved her cross over her stately shoulders for the love of her husband. She is a woman among women.
I find it a great privilege to be able to witness how love continues into old age, especially with our current society being “in it” for quick pleasures and selfish ambitions, but ignorant—or just unwilling to see—what that finish line will look like. Love is sacrifice, no matter what kind of relationship it is. It’s a continuously active, difficult journey through learning to be unselfish and gaining perspective for the good of all. It’s a word. An action. It’s joy and pain wrapped up in a weathered bow. It’s following Christ’s example to the cross, where it reaches so far into the light it will pour out into every generation until the end of the age.
Feel free to tell us your stories of love in the comments below.
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