I hate that Tipper and Al Gore are splitting up. It’s not that I was ever a big Al Gore fan (except for his work on global warming.) It’s just that theirs was such a sweet story – high school sweethearts, four kids, grandkids, years in politics and still a hot romance. After 40 years together, it seems like a shame they can’t make it.
I heard a lady on NPR talking about all the attention the break up is getting and how it seems to be making a surprising number of people sad. Her theory was that there is so much bad going on right now — the oil spill, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, North Korea threatening South Korea, etc. etc — that people are overwhelmed. Somehow, the only thing we can wrap our heads around to actually grieve is the end of the Gore marriage; everything else is too big. It’s an interesting theory…
I admire any couple who has been married for 40 years and now that Mr. Clark and I are in year 31 together, I can’t imagine the carrot life could dangle in front of me that would make me give up all the things our marriage is and has created over the years. What out there is so appealing that it makes you quit so close to the finish line?
Antoine de Saint-Exupery described love as, not “gazing at each other, but looking outward together in the same direction.” That seems like a pretty good way to approach the long haul marriage presents. Maybe, after all these years, Tipper and Al stopped gazing in the same direction. I just hope we don’t read about some global warming intern crawling out of the wood work to be Al’s new arm candy, once the smoke clears. Old wives like me hate reading about that — it’s just so tacky.
The other day, while working an emergency room social worker shift, I encountered a sad, but really touching love story between a pair who started out homeless and were finally right where they wanted to be, only to have him end up in the ER dying from some kind of horrible internal bleed. While we were waiting for the doctors to work the miracle that ended up not happening, the wife told me their story. They met six years ago in a really rough homeless community. “He had my back,” she said, “and, I had his, and, we just ended up falling in love.”
In a few months they found their way to a less dangerous homeless place and since they both did odd jobs when they could find them, eventually they bought themselves a tent. (He had been a painter until a long fall off a high ladder ruined his back and she had been badly injured in a car accident years ago…no insurance, not much family, two people with limited abilities just trying to scrape by…)
She found a job at the Salvation Army as the night door person for the women’s dorm, which gave them an income steady enough to buy a little camper and get their names on the low income housing waiting list. Last year, she said, they made it to the top of the list and moved into an apartment. After a brief breakup last fall (“turns out we couldn’t live without each other,” she said) he dropped to his knees during the Thanksgiving dinner at the Salvation Army and asked her to marry him. She said, “yes!” and off to the courthouse they went, the following Monday.
Years of hard work and harder living had clearly taken its toll on these folks; they looked rode hard and put away wet. But, their love for each other shone through and lit up their faces, even as he lay there dying. She said she’d just qualified for disability, so their plan was for her to quit her night job at the shelter so they could travel. I asked her where they were going and she said “Panama City — we were going to leave next week. Neither of us has ever seen the ocean or Panama and we wanted to do that before one of us died. If only this had happened in a few more weeks…now we’ll never see Panama.”
It was gut-wrenching to watch her stroking his face, so strong and brave, holding his hand as his life slipped away. “You hang in there, Baby,” she said, staring deep into his eyes. “Don’t you worry, Baby. We’ll make it to Panama City yet,” was his reply. Their leathery, life-worn faces looked so bright and alive as they talked softly to each other, both knowing this was goodbye.
This couple seemed to have held on, to the very end, to what Tipper and Al lost somewhere along the way — the ability to dream the same dream, together, while moving forward in the direction of that dream, however slow the progress. Emily Bronte wrote, “Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” What a lovely way to describe true love, whether it’s found in a homeless shelter and lasts for life or fades away, gradually, in a fine home in Washington, D.C.
Lorin Sinn-Clark is a writer for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.