One of my favorite movie scenes comes from a film called "Smoke", when a writer whose wife died in a car accident begins a conversation with his friend who has taken a picture of his Cigar shop every day for ten years. The writer says he doesn’t understand, and how the pictures look the same to him. The cigar shop owner tells him that if he doesn’t slow down he’s going to miss the point, and at that moment the writer turns to a picture of his deceased wife. Then he gets it. Every day is a unique chance to appreciate the time we’ve been given. Ask anyone and they’ll probably agree with that sentiment, but living it is another matter. The writer would give anything to have just one more day with his wife, and in that moment comes to a new kind of understanding about how he is going to approach his own life.
I was reminded of this today when I spent some time in a little nursing home in Costa Rica. While there I met a wonderful little couple, Lilliam and Alvaro who got married while living at this home in 2006.
I watched them closely today as they held hands and walked slowly to the cafeteria to eat. They stopped along the way to talk to the other folks in the home, all the while checking in with each other about their little trip to go to have their lunch.
When one of these two felt pain, the other suffered as well. They had made a decision to take care of each other, even as their bodies were beginning to deteriorate to the point of almost daily bouts of pain. Somehow they had found this wonderful commitment in their 80’s, despite both having lived very full lives with other spouses, children and grandchildren. They showed me the story of their lives in pictures and stopped many times to point out something particularly funny, or of particular significance to them.
At one point Lilliam, an extremely fun-loving lady who loves to dance, softly began to cry which was a bit out of character for her as much as I could tell. My fellow volunteer asked what was wrong and she said, “Soy preocupante, mi marido soy enfermo”, (I am worried, my husband is sick.). It was quite touching and also very revealing. Although she was still very capable of singing, dancing, laughing, and having fun, this woman was clearly very deeply in love and profoundly upset thinking about her husband being in pain.
I thought about this most of the afternoon, and came to the conclusion that there really is no such thing as being “lucky” in love, despite the fact that people use that word in that context all of the time. Amazingly, many couples who seem to have very strong bonds have some “coincidental” story about how they met, and I am certainly interested in that idea in terms of synchronicity. But really I think we find these romantic coincidences occur a lot more often when we really understand the nature of love as a choice rather than some kind of act of destiny. As the Buddhist’s say, “when the student is ready the teacher appears.”
So yet another life-lesson learned as I blaze my way across this beautiful, mysterious country, where you still go to a little nondescript nursing home in a small corner of the world, and absorb perhaps one of the most powerful lessons you will ever learn. My work with these people will end next week, but they will stay in my heart forever.