I’m leaving for Chicago today; I need to be there for work bright and early tomorrow morning. Of course that means I’ll be making a stop at LAX, the Los Angeles International Airport, a place that’s not really a place at all. It is, similar to every other large airport, just a transit point. Every moment spent there is like being thrust onto a conveyor belt inside a sprawling and ungainly machine. A machine that eventually delivers people to an actual place. That said, flying beats a long distance ride in a Conestoga wagon hands down.
There’s a palpable sense of discomfort at LAX, (even in the so-called, first class lounges.) After all, can anyone be totally comfortable knowing that soon (or worse, after an interminable delay) they’ll be herded into what is basically a long metal tube, and propelled through the air by the thrust of burning jet fuel at five hundred miles an hour?
As I walk through the airport under the strain of my too-heavy backpack and my guitar case, which is meant to be carried on one’s back, but in fact weighs more than the guitar itself, I see an elderly couple, stopped alongside me in the security line. The man is tall with thinning grey hair. As he turns to me I notice he’s got two large hearing aids and a cane. The woman is tall as well. She appears dignified even as she balances on a cane of her own. There is nothing particularly unusual about the two of them, yet on some subtle level I am struck by the concern they seem to have for one another.
As always the airport is a scene of endless movement, and today it strikes me that it’s become a place that’s fit only for the young, the young who rise off the benches to stretch their graceful limbs, who are overly certain of their strength, their beauty and their ability to move with grace and swagger through the world. On the walls are huge advertisements for clothing, cars, jewelry, and luggage; all of it geared toward people between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five.
The elderly couple seems adrift here; their faces bear expressions of slight panic. The primal need these two have for one another is what first makes me take notice. How is it, I wonder, that people stay together so long after the infatuation of first love has left them? What keeps couples connected when everything in our culture seems so geared toward having them separate?
Of course separation wouldn’t come for the elderly couple at this point, they’re much too old for that now. Together they’ve made it past one, or several, fraught times in their relationship, times when in an effort to reclaim something of their lost youth, they might have done the thing of lesser effort: that is, to have followed a base instinct and sought out “various other options” when their expectations for what the relationship had become had not been met.
But, what is the glue, that in spite of the tensions, in spite of the pull of the unknown, in spite of the promise of something more enticing, (or of something just plain easier) –kept this couple bound to one another all these years? It takes enormous insight to know that youth, which while it’s occurring, seems to be something constant and endlessly replenishable, is just the opposite; that it is something constantly fleeting.
What dawns on me as the elderly couple slowly makes their way to the security line is in some way, an answer to a deep question I’ve always had about the very nature of relationships:
We first make a vow, a sacred promise to one another and then we come to truly believe that loyalty, fealty to a person and to an ideal is, in spite of it being totally invisible to the naked eye, far more real, far more concrete, than even the immediacy of the physical world.
Now the woman reaches into her bag and hands the man her water bottle. He takes a sip and wraps his arm around the woman’s shoulders. Next, he whispers something sweet and she smiles. Watching them as they make their way slowly through the line, up to the gate, and later onto the plane –to wherever it is they are bound, (I imagine to see grandchildren, or perhaps great grandchildren) is as significant a moment as I’ve had in a long time. And as with every moment of significance, questions arise.
Who will be with us when we can no longer make it up the stairs, when our eyesight fails us, and when our hearing goes? Who will be with us to share the experience of an entire lifetime?
The people with whom we create the kind of indelible trust I saw this morning are by far the most important assets we will ever know. I hesitate to consider them “assets,” as if we had ownership of people, but in some way, the successful relationships, the ones that we helped create, are indeed assets.
Together, this elderly couple has built something exceptional, and their love and care for each other was instructive. This morning it showed me, as only things of great beauty truly can, the primacy of the spirit over the material. It also hinted at the delicate indestructibility of love itself.
I tend to believe that we are put in the places we find ourselves, not simply for the ostensible reasons –in my case, because I needed to be in Chicago for work, but for more primary reasons.
Perhaps I was sent here this morning to catch a glimpse of the power of two old people in love.
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated rock and roll musician, visual artist, author, film composer, and speaker. Peter’s new book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) is available here.