The following is a blog post by Caledonia native Jeff Mallaber offered as an insight into true love. You can follow more of Jeff’s posts at rokk.thoughts.com.
Just as we get ready to engage in our superficial and largely phony annual celebration of romance, fate stepped in and slapped me in the mug with a bonafide example of the real deal.
I was waiting for my mother to get out of hip replacement surgery, sitting in the lobby of the hospital and playing one of my favorite time-wasting games…Spot the Serial Killer. I had already picked out three likely candidates, when around the corner came a man and his wife, moving slowly, seemingly leaning on one another.
They were mid-70’s, maybe even a little north of that. If appearances hold true, there probably aren’t many digits on their monthly bank statements. Their clothes were simple, but clean and neat. If it was a mall instead of a hospital, you might not even notice them, but for two things.
First, she was wearing a scarf over her head, clearly in an effort to conceal the fact that her treatments had cost her her hair. Not an uncommon sight in this world, but still enough to tug at your heart a little.
But the real thing that made them stand out, was that her husband is a real-life giant. Easily 6-5, and in the 275-300 pound ballpark. His head looked like it was carved from solid rock, and his forearms (one of which was adorned with a Marine Corps emblem tattoo) were still as big as an NFL defensive lineman. He looked like he could still clean out a bar full of 20-somethings without worrying about his beer getting warm while he took care of business. If I had to guess, I’d say farmer or truck driver. Maybe both.
To put it mildly, he appeared to me to be a man who was not overly experienced in the art of being gentle. But I am here to tell you that he was ALL ABOUT giving it his best shot. He took cartoonishly small steps so that she wouldn’t have to struggle to keep up. He had one huge paw around her shoulder, holding her tight, and the other one held out to her, across his body, giving her something extra to help her balance.
More than once, in the time it took them to walk 30 yards through the lobby, he asked her if she needed to sit down. He told her she could wait and he would go get the truck and bring it around. She declined. My guess is she had no intention of letting go of him for even a couple of minutes. I half expected him to just scoop her up like Richard Gere at the end of Officer and a Gentleman, and carry her to the car. I honestly feel like he would have if he had thought of it.
For her part, she leaned on him like the Rock of Gibraltar that she very obviously believes him to be. This is a woman in the middle of a desperate fight against a son of a bitch that she can’t even see. But she had her giant by her side, and she wasn’t letting go, come hell or high water.
I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I wanted to help, but there was nothing I could do that the big fella didn’t already have a handle on. Believe me, though, he was flustered. For one thing, he just isn’t the kind of guy for whom tenderness comes naturally. But there was something more important at work. He was SCARED.
I created a vision in my head of this guy, at 20, wading through a rice paddy in Vietnam, looking for Charlie, and for a moment I felt a little sorry for the Viet Cong. This man was not to be trifled with, and I am willing to bet all the cash I can lay my hands on that, in his life, the word frightened has only been used to describe the people who crossed him. But the look on his face was as clear as crystal.
This enormous oak tree of a man was scared to death that fate was about to take from him the only thing in his life that couldn’t be replaced…the only thing that MATTERS. He looked helpless and frustrated, like he didn’t understand why this would happen to her. If some celestial representative of the gods had appeared in the lobby and offered him a deal whereby he could trade places with her, and she could be well again, he would have accepted it before the messenger finished his sales pitch.
That’s when it struck me. That’s what love looks like.
It’s not holding hands on the beach and watching the sun set into the ocean. Any two people can do that. It’s not making sure that her engagement ring is bigger and shinier than her cousin’s. A diamond is just a pretty rock.
Love is a giant, falling all over himself, trying to make it better for his best girl, even though he knows he can’t fight this fight for her. It’s a guy who would gladly take on half a dozen Hell’s Angels if it meant her odds of getting through this would be increased by one percent.
Love is a woman leaning HARD on the stone pillar around which she built her life. It’s being in a real battle, and facing difficult odds, but feeling better just because he’s standing beside you. It’s a woman, worn out from the awful war going on inside her, but choosing to walk with her man rather than letting him go so that he could fetch the truck. Is this perception of mine sexist? You know what? I don’t care.
I don’t know if this story that I imagined based on what I saw is completely accurate. But I bet it’s close. I saw two people at the center of a dangerous storm, each of them made just a little bit stronger by the fact that they had the other within arms reach. Of that much, I am certain.
Sunday is Valentine’s Day, a completely fake and meaningless “holiday” brought to you by your friends at Hallmark, and various other retail merchants. Go ahead and get her the obligatory roses and candy. Buy the card with the Maya Angelou verse on the front. Greet him at the door in that little Vicky’s Secret number that you keep in the back of the attic so the kids won’t see it.
But do not, for one moment, believe that any of that has anything at all to do with love. In truth, love is a verb, a word of action, and it can only be properly displayed when the chips are down. Love is needing someone so bad that you would dive into a blast furnace head first for just one chance at saving them. Love, so the fairy tale goes, is what brought Sampson down.
Today, I looked into the eyes of a real life Sampson, and I got what it meant to be in love. I’ll most likely never see that building on two legs, or his lady, again. But I will choose to believe that he got her through it, and they finished growing old together.
Nothing else would be fair. Happy Valentine’s Day.