When, sometimes, words rumble through your heart, you end up with a few vignettes that may someday tell a story worthy of the real thing- the real love story, the real action film, the real family drama as it unfolded in front of me, albeit from a distance. Because meeting these two has been as real as it gets. My heart is forever changed.
Our story begins on the busy streets of Washington DC, where a couple of upward-gazing sightseers bounce along the sidewalk, hip to hip, with a soft-sided Samsonite in tow. They are middle aged, middle class, middle westerners with greying temples and the subtle synergy of a life long lived in tandem… steps in sync, heads bobbing in affirmation of the other’s quiet thoughts.
They cross a vast expanse of lawn, quarter-sected by diagonal sidewalks at the visual center of the Capitol building, whose dome is obscured by a web of steel scaffolding and exposed layers of Corinthian veneer. It is a sunny, steamy day in our nation’s capitol, and thousands of colorful pansies line the walkways in precise, manicured rows, like tiny soldiers in a ceremonial color guard.
I follow behind them, more full of admiration and awe than they will ever know, a witness to a love story sustained mostly, at this point, by muscle memory and unwavering faith.
They make it look easy, honestly, with their giant smiles and head-cocked wonder every time their eyes meet. You’d never know that between their clasped hands are the stabbing shards of shattered dreams, and each footstep along this sidewalk is one last step they’ll take together. Never could I imagine their heartbreak, their loss, their injustice. No, I only see their joy.
He drags the Samsonite behind him as he has done on many occasions over the course of their marriage, well rehearsed from years of packing the trunk, securing the rooftop carrier, hoisting carry-ons into overhead bins for passengers aft and fore on countless flights. He is a natural born leader… a didactic empath… a charismatic preacher and devout family man… and a person living with Alzheimer’s disease.
She is careful with his fractured sense of direction and bungled intention. She’s the bright spot in his shadow, and she gently steers him along the sidewalk from just outside his consciousness. He is alternately aware that he is in Washington DC with the Alzheimer’s Association for their annual advocacy forum, and simply walking through the park with his wife.
He is delighted, either way, to be in this moment with her…