(The names have been changed in this true story.)
Nearly half a lifetime ago, I spent the better part of a year teaching an evangelization program to a dedicated group of adults in two Catholic parishes. During that time I met some truly wonderful people; and, the memory of that experience – and of those good souls – blesses me to this day.
One couple, Stan and Jill, left a particularly indelible impression. They were both in their early sixties, but their love seemed much younger. They held hands during class, often smiled knowingly at one another, and, perhaps as much as any couple I have ever known, seemed inseparable.
When one spoke of the other, it was frequently in possessive terms – “My Stan” and “My Jill” – and, each seemed entirely comfortable in that identity.
By the time I got to know them, Stan had already suffered a serious heart attack, and there had been lasting damage. Perhaps as a result, both he and Jill seemed genuinely grateful for every moment together. Their faith, like their love, was pure.
When the program ended, I lost touch with most of the participants, including Stan and Jill; but, I remembered…
A few years back, I was in the area and decided to attend Mass at one of the churches where I had taught long before. As I took my seat, I looked around wondering if I would recognize anyone. There, in a pew several rows in front of me, I saw Jill seated with another elderly woman. Stan was notably missing.
When Mass ended, I exited the pew and walked toward her. As I approached, I could see that Jill’s memory was jarred, but there was a slightly puzzled look on her face.
“I’m Steve, Jill. Steve Dalton… from the evangelization program way back when.”
“Oh, Steve,” she said, reaching to hug me. “It’s so wonderful to see you again.”
Her face, like my own, was considerably older. Her smile, however, was every bit as radiant.
We briefly exchanged pleasantries, but then sadness rushed in.
“I lost my Stan eight years ago.”
Though anticipating such news, her words nonetheless stung me. I listened… and then attempted to offer some hope; but, I knew in my heart that the gesture would fall woefully short.
Stan and Jill are one. Death cannot overcome that God-ordained, eternal reality. For a season though, Jill must live with an absence that defies complete consolation. Such is the risk/cost of true love.
“My Marianne” and I have now reached the age of knowing our mortality. With the help of heroic couples like Stan and Jill, we too are coming to terms with the cost of truly becoming one. In fact, we sometimes speak of the inevitable. Marianne has even said to me, “I hope that you go first,” wishing to spare me the pain of her absence.
Our children recognize the wisdom in Marianne’s hope. My youngest son, Matt, once said to me, “Dad, if Mom dies before you, you’ll probably die too within a week.” He may be right.
True love is life’s greatest investment! But, like every investment, risk is involved…