April 2012 Hunting Island, SC While trying to capture the essence of a late afternoon at the shore when the sea meets the sky through the sun’s long shadows, I saw this couple in the bottom of the camera frame. They looked to be at least two decades older than me, and even though they were bit players in the scenery that opened before me, I fixated on their stroll at the waters edge. I don’t know their story. I can only assume their relationship. But the beach has always been a destination that upon arrival fans my imagination.
I think they are dawning upon their fourth or fifth decade of marriage, and judging by their attire, they are not at the beach to tan. They have stopped at Hunting Island for a night to camp before continuing to Jacksonville in time to see their two grandkids for Easter. They have never really been a couple of great means. Decades ago when their kids were small they planned family vacations around tents and campers because it was the most economical way to see the country. But now, its their preferred accommodation, not because they can’t afford nice hotel environs in their retirement, but because the smell of pine and salt air remind them of their salad days, when their children were small enough to innocently receive the brilliance of a family dinner around a Coleman stove followed by a walk on the beach in time to see pinks and oranges mix with blues and greens forming a day inching toward its night.
They have weathered a few surgeries between the two, and they could both stand to lose a few pounds, but that has been a constant battle that they are now tired of fighting. They take vitamins, but they still eat the cheesecake when offered. They have been in debt and out of debt and back again, and wasted way too much breath on arguments about money and in-laws and sex and how to correctly load a dishwasher. He still goes behind her and abruptly nests the bowls and plates in the bottom rack, and she lets him because it makes him happy even in his frustration.
They have a faith, and it is not bound by attendance. Don’t get me wrong, they were at one time heavy lifters in their parish, and they still attend, but it long ago ceased being about appearance and perfunctory duty. In this senior season their faith is bound by simplicity. They like it like that, and they from time to time wonder why they couldn’t feel this way about God when they were younger, and busier. They don’t care much about being right anymore, and they listen to music now.
So that is who I think they are, or maybe who I hope Aly and I will become. Honestly, they don’t look like they did on their wedding day, and it is foolish to think anyone with their life history would. But they have something. Something I want. Something I think is attainable, even within reach from where we currently reside at year twenty-three. They have it. And “it” is that hard fought victory tested by time and trials and oh so many unmarked trails they have joyfully and sadly wound their life around. But don’t ask me to put a name on it, or a description beyond what I have already attempted. A good marriage is hard to qualify with a universal definition, but I’ll borrow that famous phrase from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when attempting to describe pornography. Words often fail an apt description of a good marriage, “but I know it when I see it.”
He looks up the beach and sees a Pelican diving into the surf to catch a Pelican supper. She is content to watch the Blue Symphony in front of her. The sun is warm on their backs. They aren’t tired. They are mature. And in the very next instant, he grabs her hand at the same moment she is reaching for his. “Lets go eat supper.”
And they do. And it is good. Good Friday.