Holding hands

Loving hands — like these belonging to a Pacific County couple who were married for 75 years — are inspirational.

‘I will protect you, I will comfort you… I will love you.”

Many men walk many miles searching for the honest chance (and clear courage) to say these words. Men don’t make sense by themselves. For the most part, they kill the things they haven’t built and worship the things they have; they lust for things that can be bought and long for things that can’t.

The Greyhound carries them on highways that empty into darkness. Their cars take them to odd towns and all night gas stations with red-headed cashiers name Peg. They nurse a stale beer. They use the lit end of a cigarette to write the initials of and old girlfriend in an ashtray.

What word is worse than lonely?

Many, many people have done stupid things. Some are saved, while others are crushed. I’ve seen old men squeezing through broken windows and sleeping in abandoned houses — wandering souls curled up inside Goodwill donation boxes, stone-frozen men wrapping their cold, shivering bodies around the toilets in public restrooms.

I’ve seen saints and angels huddled together in tin-roof shacks, I’ve seen good people given the rare chance at real, genuine love. I’ve seen them walking in pairs, as couples. Two people walking closely together, hand in hand, arm in arm — a warm imitation of nature.

So I am in the parking lot at Jack’s the other day — this would be a double-stuff cookie run (my wife gave me money so it’s not my fault) perhaps some chocolate milk (if there’s no one in the store I know), when I see two older people (I say older because they look to be about my age) and the man leaves the store first, and the women (the wife I guess) walking maybe 10 feet behind.

I’ve seen this before, and each time I find myself a bit disappointed. What happened that made the distance between them seem so far away? What have they lost? What have they forgotten about each other? What did they do to make the fire of love seem so worthless?

I love the idea of couples, of people so intimate and comfortable with each other that they delight in everyday moments. I love the idea of a man and a woman at a baseball game, talking only to each other among all the cheers, alone together in a crowd of 50,000. I love couples that get each other blankets when it is cold and dance together across the living room when all the lights are off. I love couples who talk to each other when they go to bed.

I was at the beach right about the time the sun was going down. The sky was flooded in orange and rimmed with gray and streaks of flashing blue. The last of the sun blazed along the beach, the sand seemed to shine like silver, and I saw the silhouettes of two people, a man and a woman, walking at the water’s edge, hand in hand. It seemed to me as if they were walking on hallowed ground, on their way to someplace sacred.

So now, tonight, as I let you in on these, my most private thoughts, I ask the spirits to bless every couple, whether they live on together or one lives alone with a precious memory. I believe that every man searches for a song to soothe him and every women is a lullaby.

Many times my hand has been empty; many times my thoughts drift away like lost clouds looking for rain, and then I realize, a little sadly, how the greatest gifts are those that need the most attention, and leave us sooner or later with nothing but an echo.

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