It was England I believe, but perhaps Ireland. After years of travel, my memory has become regrettably unreliable. I was young. I can’t remember the name of the museum, or the artist, or a single piece of work in the exhibit, but I remember the two of them. I’ll always remember them.
I couldn’t tell at first. They had their backs to us, looking at something on the opposite wall. Her wrinkled arm was intertwined with his. She leaned into his side, pressing her elderly lips against his ear, warmly whispering words I couldn’t make out. Secrets. Truths. Devotions. With her other hand she stroked his forearm gently.
In his other hand, he held a cane. I remember thinking how fragile he seemed, propped between a frail woman and a flimsy cane, as though a single unassuming gust of wind would send them tumbling. And yet they moved together with such ease, this serene creature on its five diminutive legs. It was impossible to feel anything but calm and sturdy in their presence. Together they glided through the silent room.
They turned toward us and I found myself facing a pair of listless eyes. It took me a moment to realize that he was blind. Blind in a museum. And then, both slowly and all at once, I understood. She hadn’t been whispering secrets. She had been describing the colors, the delicate brush strokes, the intricate shapes. She had been his sight. She was his missing piece.
I wondered if he had always been blind, if he had ever seen anything. I wondered if her descriptions of the blues and pinks and oranges held any meaning for him, or whether they were just words whose significance he had to imagine. I wondered why he had agreed to come to a museum at all.
And then I thought of something else, something new. Perhaps he hadn’t agreed. Perhaps he had suggested it, requested it, just to spend an afternoon with her arm wrapped around his, her mouth pressed so tenderly to his ear, her breath warm and sweet upon his cheek. Perhaps this, in some way, was everything.
That was the first time I remember seeing love. I mean, reallyseeing it. Standing before me was a testament of patience, sacrifice, compromise, and kindness. Standing before me was a couple who didn’t need sight, or the ability to walk with ease, or the fervor of youth to make their hearts sing. Standing before me was a living, breathing monument of love. It was beautiful. It was art. So this is love, I thought.
Love. Long after your senses have left you and your skin has withered. Long after your days of running and dancing through the fields have gone. Long after the relationships you knew would last forever have faded into old pictures and letters tucked away in your memory chest, your heart still thrives for it, on it. Because it is love that keeps us going, and love that makes us want to stay. It is love that we wake up for each morning in the hopes of finding, and keeping, and cherishing. It is love that spurs us on.
And the blind man knew that, and so he placed it in a museum, so that the rest of us could come and look. And know. And see.