Posts tagged: commitment
(photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
The wind slipped cold, cruel fingers down my collar and teased at the heavy scarf around my neck and it fluttered and danced around my face as I walked carefully down the slushy sidewalk. The afternoon sun was high and bright but the temperature was still bitingly cold.
I’d been wandering in and out of the shops that line the main street of Traverse City, Michigan, looking for some kind of token to bring home with me. Valentine’s Day was coming.
I picked up a few things as I shopped: jam made from Michigan cherries, a postcard, a pair of gloves. But nothing carried the true weight of what I wanted to say.
Finally, running out of time, I turned off the main street and walked toward the shore of the Lake.
As I navigated the path, I was careful to avoid the iciest patches. The deep snow formed a high white wall around the edge of the lake and I noticed there were no other footprints. A few cars were parked at the edge and the occupants were protected as they ate their lunches and gazed out at the water, but no one else was foolish enough to get out and face the relentless cold.
I stood there, open to the wind that poured across the lake freezing everything in it’s path. My face was numb, my eyes watered. My toes and fingers ached.
The deep azure color of the lake, rimmed by snowy beaches and green hills, flowed up toward the sky in bands of blue broken only by small clouds. There was a skim of ice on the water closest to the shore and for a few minutes I watched a pair of swans, side-by-side, floating languidly in the frigid water. I remembered reading that swans mate for life and wondered, again, if it is true.
Finally, surrendering, I pushed my hands deeply into my pockets and started to turn away but stopped when the pair of swans moved. As I watched, in a slow, subtle, water-ballet, the pair turned slightly toward one another, long necks gracefully arched, heads pointed down to the water, swimming breast to breast. And for a moment, at least from where I was standing, the space between them formed the shape of a perfect heart.
Swans live their lives the same way so many humans do, it’s just that our seasons are longer. We court in the spring, have our young in the summer and in the winter, after the young have left the nest, we are content to swim alone, close to our mate for comfort and company.
My fingers were cold and too slow to bring out my camera and by the time I pressed the shutter the swans had turned away. But I had found my Valentine.
I was looking for a card or a gift but it took a pair of wild winter swans to show me the way. This Valentine's Day, all I really want to say is that when we are winter birds, I will still be here. I will always be the other half of the heart.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
This is a re-post of one of my favorite columns. I am always asked to read it when I have a speaking engagement. I wrote this in 2006 but I've never forgotten the feeling of standing at the window and watching the couple walk down the sidewalk.
Interestingly, I got dozens of phone calls, emails and notes from people who thought the pair I described might have been, or at least reminded them of, their parents. When the column aired on KPBX, the music I chose to undescore the essay was “Real Love” by John Lennon.
Standing at the window, high above the busy street, I watched them.
The elderly couple walked slowly down the sidewalk. He was tall. His head was bent low over the woman at his side, and strands of his thin white hair lifted in the wind. Faded, shapeless, corduroy pants, a size too big, hung loosely on his spare frame.
The woman was small. Her head was no higher than the man’s shoulder and her open coat flapped around her thin legs and billowed behind her.
His arm was wrapped protectively around her slight shoulders as she clutched his sweater, and they clung together against the onslaught of the gusts of wintry wind.
There was something about the way they walked, fitted into and against one another, that hinted of a long history as a couple.
I imagined them as they had awakened that morning. Bodies that had lost the softness of youth, grown lean and sharp with age, spooned together in the bed they had shared for many years. They rose to greet the day in a room full of photographs, the smiling faces of mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, newborn babies and fresh-scrubbed children, looking down from the walls.
Their own wedding portrait – perhaps he was wearing a uniform – on the table beside the bed.
I imagined a room and two lives that had seen passion, heartache, tears and laughter. And love.
It’s Feb. 13.
For weeks we’ve seen ads for chocolate and diamonds and all the trappings of romance.
For some reason, in the midst of the sentimental spiel about expensive jewelry and sexy lingerie, the image of the old man and woman popped into my mind.
The idea of love as it is fed to us by greeting cards, movies and best-selling novels is luscious, soft and sweet. Like ripe fruit.
But what I saw in the language of the bodies that moved so slowly down the sidewalk was something else. It was older and mellowed, more mature.
It was real love. Love that has been tempered and forged. Love that, like wine, has opened and breathed. Love that has bloomed.
Forget the candy and the roses. I want what they have.
I’m not naïve. I know there must have been days, weeks, months and even years when the feeling between them waned. When the bonds felt more like chains, and desire cooled. When life was too hard and unforgiving to foster romance.
But love endured. I could see it in every move they made.
As I watched, the man and woman rounded the corner and disappeared from view. Impulsively, I hurried down the stairs and out the door to the corner. But they were gone.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.
Somewhere in this town, in a room filled with memories, the morning light will fall on the man and the woman.
I can’t help but believe that when they stir, each feeling the comforting presence of the other before their eyes even open; without a word, without flowers or diamonds, they will quietly share what the rest of us will wrap in poetry and pretty paper: Love.