I was in a hospital today…well, more accurately, an outpatient wing of a major university medical center. As I was leaving to begin what would turn out to be an ordeal in the parking deck, I stepped into an empty elevator that had arrived with blissful expediency, and was waiting for the door to close. An elderly couple approached in the proverbial nick of time to beat the doors closing, asked if I was going down, and joined me in the elevator.
When I say elderly, I’m placing this couple in their upper 60’s or lower 70’s. It appeared to my brief observation that one of her eyes had just had a procedure performed, as it was red and perhaps a bit bloody. I was hesitant to make any extended eye contact…something about doing so in an elevator marks you as someone to be avoided, so my gaze shifted to the closing doors and the digital indicator of our current position between floors.
“Does it still hurt?” the man asked his wife, reaching over for her hand and taking it. She indicated that it did, more non-verbally than verbally, and he replied, “I’m sorry.”
Then we reached our floor, and went our separate ways.
While his vocal tone was tender and compassionate, the thing that struck me about this scene was his reaching for his wife’s hand; the caring and reassuring manner in which he grasped it, the way he held it as they stepped together, side by side, into the lobby of the building. There was little difference in the way I have grasped Karen’s hand in situations in which I was concerned about her. Or, for that matter, times when I’ve just been affectionate. Karen and I were taking a walk this past weekend. As we were talking about future dreams and goals, she gave me one of those smiles that are so rare and so impacting in their beauty, and I gave her hand a firm squeeze. She asked what that was for, and I told her it was “I love you” squeeze. She said she could tell.
No difference between us in our 30’s and the couple on the elevator today in their 60’s or 70’s, except that their affection toward each other, sort of like wine I guess, had grown much better with age and wisdom.
If Karen and I are still alive at 60 and 70, I hope our affection for each other has deepened the way that this couple’s obviously had, because there is so very little of that in the world at large. So little of love seems to last, because so many cheap substitutes for love abound and are readily accepted in our culture, not to mention all of the wars and pressure for possessions that drown out it’s voice. The end result, I think, is that we are at best deprived, or at worst forgetful, of the power of real love and affection. The world needs the sort of love I felt emanating from the couple in the elevator today to fly in the face of a cultural cynicism, a pervasive angst. We are in serious need of more real love.
Hopefully, in our 60’s, we’ll be like the couple today in the elevator. And, hopefully, someone perhaps newly married will be observing us in a given situation as I was observing them today. And, if so, then hopefully we’ll inspire that person.
Hopefully. Because hope is what that kind of love is all about.