I’m at a table in a crowded restaurant, a place I come to write because it usually isn’t busy and the tea is always good.
I’m surrounded by three older couples, nestled somewhere in age between my parents and my grandparents. One couple, I overheard, has been married for 52 years. One couple has been sitting in silence the entire meal, not a single word or even a glance toward one another. The last chose their table because the wife wanted to accommodate her long-legged husband. All three have caught my eye.
The first two haven’t stopped talking since I walked in. There’s a joyful constant banter between them. There’s a crossword puzzle on the table between them, she has the pen, he’s telling her what to write. They have matching coffee mugs pushed to the side, empty and obviously enjoyed. They can’t take their eyes off of each other. He’s telling her stories, gesturing big and wide, and she laughs so much she starts coughing while he pauses until she recovers. Their love is clear, simple, sweet. Their faces are weathered and covered in deep wrinkles that show they’ve gone through much over the years. I wonder if this is their weekly routine, if this is their spot, if they always share crossword puzzles and coffee like this. I look at them and see the kind of love I hope to have--the kind of love that doesn’t need a five star restaurant and a fancy date and a big show of things, the kind of love that they can’t help but share with the man clearing away their plates.
“They say every man is entitled to one good dog or one good woman,” the husband said. “And me, I’ve got them both.”
Pure gold. If I ever write a country song, that will be the chorus.
The second couple, they’re the silent ones. Maybe the words have just run out between them. Maybe the years took them away, silenced them. Or maybe they’re just tired. Maybe each other’s company is all they need tonight. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe this is their routine, too, and they just don’t need to fill the air with talk about this crazy rain or if their food is good. I look at them and wonder what their story is, wonder why the talking’s gone and they don’t even make eye contact.
The third couple, their love is familiar, selfless, accommodating. She beelined straight for the table by the window, but then turned for the table in the middle of the busy room, saying to her husband, “you’ll have more leg room here, you’ll be more comfortable.” He passed his baguette over to her when she finished hers so she would have more to dip in the soup she still had left. They shared a smoothie, passing it back and forth. They’re wearing matching Teva sandles and their cheeks are rosy in all the same places like they’ve been sharing sunlight and adventures together lately. They know each other well, it’s obvious. She can’t take her eyes off of him, even when he’s talking to someone walking by. She has a look of magic in those eyes, a look of adoration that has lasted a long time.
What makes love like that last? What makes a man now bent over and leaning on a cane still call his wife his bride, still open the door for her as they leave? What makes the words still flow even after years of conversation, or what makes them stay unspoken?
What I saw was simplicity, three instances of two people being together, being present. Whether they spoke or sat still, they were there together, no phones, no screens, no technology putting walls up between them. They knew each other well, knew when to give and share and when to wait and just enjoy sharing space together.
The sky outside the window next to me is dark and threatening, the rain is pelting hard against the glass, leaves whipping around, and I look at these couples, and I know they’ve weathered storms, too. I don’t know what their storms or stories are, but I can see in the lines on their faces and the light in their eyes and in the little ways they interact that they’ve gone through much on their journey to today, and it's beautiful.
It’s just Panera. It’s just a Thursday evening. But Panera on this Thursday was special to me. Three couples showed me love lasts and looks different every time, and that made my heart smile. Three couples showed me sharing a table and sharing a meal and sharing space is worth carving out time for, because I think it’s simple little things like that that keep love going strong and going long.