Aren’t they cute?

17 Apr

“Aren’t they cute?” whispered my mom as we walked into the grocery store. It wasn’t a question really. It was a statement.
I looked around the parking lot. I knew which “they” she was talking about immediately. It was the elderly couple shuffling side by side, hand in hand, as they made their way out of the grocery store. The man held a cane, and the woman leaned on him.
I was young then, young enough where I held my mom’s hand whenever we walked through a parking lot and young enough where I knew when she squeezed my hand three times consecutively that it meant “I love you.”
Mom saw these couples everywhere, in parks, in crowds and especially in grocery store parking lots. And she always pointed them out to me.
I thought, “Puppy dogs? Cute. Kittens? Cute. Old, saggy adults? No, definitely not cute.” I couldn’t understand what was so cute about these people.
The very way she whispered the words, “Aren’t they cute?” meant something. She whispered the words the way you might whisper to a friend that not ten feet in front of you there is a movie star, but only you recognize them. It was a, “Shhh don’t look now, but there’s someone special. No one sees them but me.”
And I was, apparently, in on the secret.
I grew older, as children often do, and one day, on my lunch break from my grown-up job, I did what I often do, which is eat my lunch in the park adjacent to where I work.
I walk past the waterfall, through the winding pathway and see, in the distance, the bench I usually sit on, the one in front of the pond with the bobbing ducks.
Not too far from the bench, a man and woman struggle toward it. They both wear winter jackets, though the weather lovely. The man wears a gray cap and the woman uses a cane. She cannot not walk well, and the man beside her encourages her effort as she leans into the crook of his arm.
I cannot hear their conversation, but he seems to be saying, though his body language, “See how wonderful it is to be outside in the nice weather? Aren’t you glad we came?”
My usual lunch in the park is, for them, an excursion.
After much time they make it to the bench, where they settle so close together I cannot distinguish where one begins and where the other ends.
They do not eat a picnic lunch or feed the ducks or even talk. They just sit, together, on a bench in a park on a lovely day. That is the point of the excursion, of everything. Yes, they reached the bench at the park that was awfully difficult to get to. But they did it together.
And in the end, that’s what matters.
Watching them, I am overcome with emotion, with the tenderness of the man toward his wife and with their simple satisfaction at having reached the park bench just to sit together.
I realize now that my mom’s words meant something I didn’t, at the time, understand.
When more than half of all marriages end, the silver-haired couple holding hands in the parking lot was, to her, a symbol of choice, of choosing to live out that part of the marriage vow so often forgotten: “Till death do us part.”
To her, and to me, the people who mean it are special indeed.
I found myself whispering, that day in the park, to no one in particular, “Aren’t they…well, cute?” 



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