Mountain-Sized Love

October 25th, 2010

Sometimes, love is like a moderately steep incline.

You get a little winded, and your body is challenged by the effort of moving in a way it’s not used to moving, but you keep going. You might have to stop every now and then to catch your breath and remind yourself why you’re on this path in the first place. But then you look at the person next to you, remembering when you saw them for the first time, and, suddenly, it doesn’t seem nearly as difficult.

I imagine that’s what the man in this picture was thinking. My friend and I passed him on a trail at the base of Mt. Rainier. It was an easy trail as far as trails at the base of a mountain go, but even for those of us carrying nothing but a camera, it was still quite difficult. My friend and I stopped every few minutes to catch our breath.

And that’s when we saw them. An old woman in a wheelchair, and her husband, pushing her slowly up the hill. He wanted her to see the mountain.

It certainly was something to behold.

The couple, not the mountain.

I had seen the mountain for the first time in my life, and was truly awed by its majesty. No photo could ever do it justice. I stood there in silence, drinking it all in. But nothing – not even the profound miracle of nature – compared with the display of selflessness and love exhibited by this man.

You could tell he was having a tough time. He stopped every few steps.

He was pushing a wheelchair uphill.

But I think he was doing more than that.

I think he was holding up a promise. He promised in sickness and in health, but he also promised the sharing of life experiences, the creation of joy and the promise not to give up — even when things prove challenging.

After we passed the couple, my friend and I stopped at the side of the trail — not because we were tired, but because we were crying. This photo doesn’t quite explain the beauty contained in that singular moment.

I learned there is a majesty to love. In all its rocky, misshapen twists and turns, there is a bigness to it – and it shows up in the smallest of ways. Like on the tattered wheels of a silver chariot, slowly inching its way up a mountain. And on the determined smile of the driver in back, who knows that the heart, much like the body, can only be strengthened if you exercise it.

Special thanks to my dear friend, Pamela Scholl, for taking this photo, and for stopping with me to silently witness my eleventh love story.


Lou and Bee

October 11th, 2010

They buy bananas together. He holds the left side of the cart, and she the right.

I see them one day at Whole Foods, and he proudly tells me that they have the best bananas around.

“They’re organic,” she chimes in.

I watch as they walk away, and can’t help but smile at how adorable they look. He, in his khaki pants, pulled up to the top of his hunched-over chest, and all five feet of her, shuffling along in checkered pants and pearls.

Whether in the grocery store or in my apartment building, they are always together. Always smiling. Most of the time, he is asleep in whatever chair he is sitting in, and she is reading a book, or looking out into the garden. Every time I look at them, I think they look like the kind of couple who has a lifetime of stories to share.

Today, I decided to ask them.

Lou and Bee have been married 72 years.

They met while playing basketball at the YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association) in St. Louis.

Lou recalls an immediate attraction, book-ended by a sad realization.

“She didn’t want any part of me,” he says.

Bee was involved with someone else at the time, but recalls Lou being quite persistent.

“He said when he saw me, he knew he’d marry me, but I never knew that,” she laughs.

His persistence paid off.

They dated just five months, and were married January 8, 1938.

Lou was in the service for 27 months, not long after they were married, and their first child was born when he was away. He wrote Bee letters all the time, and she kept every one of them.

They never argue. Bee says Lou would just clam up anyway, so there was really no point.

Lou says there really wasn’t ever anything worth fighting over.

“So much of it is simple respect,” he adds.

They have always spoken so sweetly to one another. Lou takes care of her. In fact, Bee has had a few falls, and her health has gotten a lot worse, so they have learned to share their lives with one other person — Bee’s caregiver.

She comes a few hours a day – enough time to allow Lou to have his daily breakfast of scrambled eggs, an English muffin and fruit at First Watch (“Their breakfast-type food is so good,” he remarks), and then volunteer at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

They used to meet a couple every Saturday for lunch, but not so much anymore.

Instead, Lou keeps a careful eye on Bee, who mostly stays on the couch, staring into a garden she once used to watch from a much closer angle. But she doesn’t let it get her down.

“Everybody’s got something,” she says. “You don’t get out of this world as easy as you got in.”

But, then, you don’t always get in or out of this world with a partner like Lou by your side.

“If you’re lucky enough to live a long life like we have, and live it together, you have nothing to complain about,” Bee says.

I think for a moment about what she said. About being lucky to travel through life with the same person – for more than 70 years. Someone who sits next to you on the couch and stares out into the garden with you, even though he could walk out there and get a closer look. Someone who drives you around the city on architectural tours, and makes you bagels when your hands are shaking too much. Someone who knew, the day he saw you, that he wanted to spend the rest of his life talking to you. Someone who has neck arthritis, but still turns to look at you when you speak.

“We manage pretty well,” Lou shrugs.

Sure sounds like it to me.