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An ode to longtime devotion

Published February 12. 2011 09:00AM

There was something about the new couple that commanded my attention.

She had a look of gentleness about her, along with a beautiful grace and an almost palpable vulnerability.

He had devotion written all over him. It showed in his eyes and in his body language.

They came for the first time to our local drum circle, holding hands as they settled in to play.

They brought several kinds of drums that they each played. But I noticed they stopped periodically when he would reach over and hold her hand.

The look she gave him was one of trust.

The look he reflected back was one of love.

I knew then that what I was seeing was a moment in time filled with beauty and meaning.

Afterward, I was so moved by the affection flowing between them that I went up to talk with them. He introduced themselves as Tom Weems and his wife, Georgia.

He told me she's an Alzheimer's patient at a local nursing home. He is constantly looking for things that will stimulate her or bring her the joy she feels when she hears her favorite church music.

"She loves rhythm," Tom says. "She was a pianist and organist. I thought she would like the drum circle. I was so happy when she started feeling the rhythm."

As he tells me they have been married for 44 years and his wife has been at the nursing home for 10 years, his eyes fill with tears and he can say no more.

He doesn't have to.

I understand the pain that is mixed in with their love for each other.

I understand because I watched the same scenario for many years with my mother and stepfather.

When my mother's Alzheimer's progressed to where she could no longer be taken care of at home, she went to a nursing home an hour away.

Her husband went to see her every day, regardless of weather or his own physical problems. He stayed for long hours each day so he could feed her and look for ways to stimulate her.

I would watch him touch my mother's face, running his hand gently down her cheek, telling her she was still beautiful. What I saw was a picture of pure devotion.

I saw that same beautiful devotion when I watched Tom with his wife.

As Valentine's Day approaches I pondered what kind of column I wanted to write to celebrate love. I thought about longtime devotion, a true love that Tom and Georgia epitomize.

Yes, it's love mixed with the pain of circumstances. But love always brings a certain amount of pain. It's how you handle it that matters.

I've been taking newspaper photos for a long time. If I had to name my favorite photo, there is only one that springs to mind. It is a photo of an old farming couple carrying a basket down a dirt road. To me, that picture symbolizes so much.

The couple said they were too old to farm anymore. They could still plant and pick crops if they worked in slow motion. But neither one had the strength to carry a bushel basket of produce.

Their solution: to each take one handle of the basket to carry it together.

In the photo I took of the old couple, they are carrying a bushel basket of corn. He is leaning heavily on his cane on one side while he helps his wife shoulder the weight of the corn with his other hand.

The symbolism that jumps out at me is that what one can't carry alone, the burden becomes easier when shared with a partner.

When I was moving from Pennsylvania to Florida, I threw away every newspaper photo I ever took. But I saved an 8 by 10 glossy of that farming couple.

On the day that I married David a little more than a year ago, I gave him a wedding present. It wasn't something gold, glittery or even something new.

I gave him the dog-eared old black and white photo of the farm couple, each making life easier by sharing the load.

I think he understood what I was trying to say.

So, this week, when we think about love as we get ready to celebrate Valentine's Day, let's glory in love of all kinds.

Let us celebrate love so young that it's like the bud of a flower waiting to bloom.

Let us celebrate the love between a parent and child and the love between friends who are there for each other.

Let us celebrate partnership and marriage and the love that serves as glue in a relationship.

Most of all let us pause to celebrate longtime devotion with all of its pleasures and pains.

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