One day at lunch, I ran into a beautiful older woman, a friend from years past, whom I hadn’t seen in quite a while. She had changed little since I first met her when I was in college.
She’s one of those lovely Southern women whose voice softly lilts with each word, and her mannerisms are subtly small and lovely. She looked so pretty. Her silver hair was cut stylishly, sweeping across her brow and framing her bright blue eyes.
Our chatter at first was courteous, each asking how the other had been and mentioning what we knew of mutual friends.
"I just read your column this morning," she said, touching on what the subject had been and how she had enjoyed it. "I never miss it." She smiled sweetly. "Jack read it every week. He loved whatever you had to say."
For a moment, I was puzzled at the use of the past tense when talking about her husband. She noticed the look in my eyes, saw that I was trying to process her words. Sadness clouded those sweet blue eyes.
"Did you know that I lost Jack three months ago?"
"No," I exclaimed, words edged in the shadow of grief I felt in my heart. I knew how in love they had been for more than 25 years. Martha and Jack. No one had ever seen a man unabashedly adore a woman more than that man had loved her.
"I’m so very sorry." For I couldn’t think of any sorrow greater than what she must be feeling. She had truly lost the love of a lifetime.
Her eye watered and she swallowed slowly before answering. "He had cancer. He fought for three years. It was really rough."
"How old was he?" I asked.
"Too young. Fifty-nine. Oh, I miss him terribly. I never knew that grief could be this intense."
I left the restaurant and spent the rest of the day thinking about Martha and Jack.
Here it is two months since I saw her and I’m still thinking about it and the life’s lesson it presented. When Jack came into her life, Martha was lovely, not extraordinarily pretty but utterly striking in grace and elegance.
She was then as she is now the epitome of Southern charm and warmth. I guess she was in her early 40s and had been divorced for a while. Jack was 17 years younger, rakishly handsome and never married.
He loved, I believe, Martha from the first time he saw her. Martha, though, was quite taken aback that such a young man would so determinedly set his cap for her.
"Oh, he’s too young," she protested for months. "I could be his mother." Martha, like those Southern women of her generation, worried "what people would think."
"Why, people will call me a cradle robber. It isn’t seemly for a woman of my age to date such a young man. People will talk." That’s how she was raised, you know.
But Jack persisted. He stood his ground. He proclaimed his love and devotion to her and everyone around her. He never wobbled. Being adored is something that no woman can resist. So with that and the encouragement of those around her, Martha eventually went out with him. Finally, she married him.
Her greatest worry was that she would grow old and become a burden to him. He assured it didn’t matter. He would love her until the end.
And so he did. For it turned out that what had worried Martha so much was not to be. He died young and it was she who took care of him.
By fretting over what people would think, Martha almost missed the love of a lifetime.
Thank goodness she got over such silliness.