A few days ago, I was doing some work at a local Panera (I KNOW) when this elderly couple at the table next to me sat down. They didn’t have a sense of being an old married-type of couple — you know, how people start to walk alike and have the same rhythm and expressions, a very settled shared pace and ease. This couple had kind of a nervous, curious energy together, like they were new to each other in some way.
I’m a big observer of people — a more polite way to say I’m freaking nosy as hell! — so I caught bits of their conversation. They were on a first date! I tweeted how cute and adorable they were, of course, because I am a semi-jerk sometimes that way. But they really were super-cute: they were laughing and giggling, and had that kind of eagerness universal to enjoyable early dates. They asked one another those get-to-know-you questions; they made awkward jokes; they took delight in their shared ideas and sensibilities. (Apparently they both loved “The Love Boat” back in the day.)
But as their date went on, I realized this wasn’t like any typical first date, those kinds where you present your best face, share your life resumes (“I climbed Kilimanjaro!” “Well, I lived in Paris!”), show off on what books you read, bands you love, movies you watch. As they shed their initial shyness, they went beautifully deep, in a way that perhaps only people who have rich wells of life experience can go. They both talked about their children, their former marriages — both had spouses that had died in recent years — their childhoods growing up on farms.
But it wasn’t just sharing information, or even opinions or stories — they shared feelings and emotions. What they learned and how they grew from experiences. Regrets and disappointments they had. What brought them genuine satisfaction and happiness. What they still hoped for and dreamed about. Maybe it was their age, and you get to a point where you’ve seen so much; you have nothing to hide, and don’t have time to play games. But they were just so present with each other.
I listened to the voices and I was struck less and less by what they talked about than how they sounded: calm, clear, trusting, honest, with no sense of playacting, pretense, or protection. They just had this hopeful, serene openness with one another. Not “take it or leave it,” but more “This is who I am, for better or worse; I hope you like it.”
It was inspiring to see these two people, clearly in the autumns of their lives, still searching, hoping and reaching for the possibility of love. It made me think of a Rumi quote I stumbled across a few weeks ago:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
When I first read that, I thought, “How is such a thing possible?” I mistook barriers for character flaws, I suppose, like the things about yourself that would keep yourself from being loved if anyone found out about them.
But removing barriers isn’t erasing all these supposed imperfections to finally be perfect enough for love — an impossible task, I think. Barriers arise from the impulse to hide, to not tell the full truth about yourself, to pretend to be something we are not. I’ve been thinking a lot about love, and about how we hide parts of ourselves in order to find or hold onto it: our shames, our fears, our anger, our darkness, what we really think and feel. Love is hard sometimes, and it’s easy to give up, to hide behind a shell, or to settle for less or take it for granted. We are often vulnerable and fearful creatures, and we protect ourselves with destructive beliefs — but at the same time, we keep ourselves from experiencing genuine intimacy. Not just with romantic partners, but with friends, family, and maybe even ourselves.
But in their gorgeous, brave openness, honesty and emotional generosity, this silver-haired couple was the closest Rumi-like ideal that I’ve seen in real life. Here were two people, still endearingly shy and nervous, but brave enough to be more than brightly festooned, highly defended fortresses we tend to be with each other. It was a beautiful thing to see and be inspired by, especially so close to Valentine’s Day.
I’m sure if their love story continues, they’ll hit roadblocks and have their spats, arguments and misunderstanding — but both of them seemed to have arrived at a place of peace and self-acceptance with themselves, and now they’re at the point where they can possibly converge. I hope, wherever they are, they’re having a lovely Valentine’s Day.
And I hope — single or taken, young or old, rich or poor — you are, too! So: Happy Valentine’s Day! May the richness of the human heart lead you to love, light and liberation.