The Beauty of Sitting Behind an Elderly Couple
With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We had just gotten into our seats when I noticed a woman guiding her husband down the row of pews. The slightly disheveled man walked slowly, his sight-impaired. His wife graciously guided him to the seat in front of us. As she sat, she bowed her head and went to a place of prayer.
As the church service went on, I became extraordinarily interested in this couple and their interactions. They were a study in a lifelong marriage—a study in duty and commitment. I was struck by how kind and gracious they were to each other. She was strong and in good health; he was frail and slightly hunched over. No longer did their health or their faculties match. Beyond being a wife, she was also a caregiver, responsible for the man she’d married many years ago.
I imagined their lives.
Both seemed conservative, so I imagined the awkward first dates, which ultimately led to a marriage. It was likely a marriage that had produced large, extended families. They were of Latino descent, which made me envision joyous moments with many aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. I wondered about their children. I was sure they were well-behaved and strong citizens. While these observations may or not have been true, I was imagining a life for them prior to this moment, with an expectation and hope that they’d had a happy earlier life.
When it was time to pass the peace of Christ, I was so happy to shake their hands. She was forthright, and honor exuded from her. I was struck by his humbleness and exposed humanity. He was a gentle soul besieged by the terrible effects of aging. He clearly had aged faster than her. In a moment of grace, they kissed for their passing of the peace.
When it was time to take communion, she helped him out into the aisle. She did not push but gently guided him. Even though we went up after them, they arrived back at their seats after us. She again helped him to sit, but as she did, she tapped his back in a gesture of love. It was a simple touch to a treasured partner.
Throughout the service, these two humble people showed small glimpses of affection for one another. Each were pious in their posture and attitude in a sacred place they shared. Their marriage was nearing its end. Perhaps even in its final years. But their loyalty and commitment to one another were still very present.
I thought about their early vows.
I thought about the following statement:
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my wife (or husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, and this is my solemn vow.
Now, here those vows were in front of me being lived out. I am sure they had tough moments—all marriages do. I am sure there were moments of anger, perhaps not many, but I am sure there were some. But I am more than sure that God helped these two people chisel out a life of deep devotion.
I wondered about their after-church practice. Would they go to brunch? Was shopping on their list? Perhaps a visit to family? Or perhaps it was to just go home and live a connected life.
I have been blessed in my own life to have a mom and dad who lived out these same values, as well as in-laws who likewise live their lives connected. My own mom struggles to leave my dad alone, out of a sense of duty. Each night before my dad goes to bed, he gives my mom a gentle kiss or says something like thank you for driving me today. My father-in-law still calls his wife my bride. They are inspiring people who show how marriage should be for all.
There was much for me to observe in that quiet hour behind these two beautiful people. Maybe I read too much into this experience. But I don’t think I did; there were far too many gestures of kindness and love for me to not know the lesson. Marriage is both hard and wonderful. Hard in submission to compromise and the everyday skirmishes with a beloved, lifelong partner. It is wonderful to share a life with the person of your dreams while performing a duty of commitment promised in front of God.
I am thankful for this God-sent reminder of my duties to my own wife. I was reminded of what I’d promised God and Connie. I only wish I could send all a picture of these two lovely people connected by love and God.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
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