It was the slightest thing, just barely noticeable. Maybe it was my own sense of perception, maybe reading my own hopes, my own romantic sensibilities into what I saw. But then again, maybe not.
They were widowers, you see, having lost their spouses after long and loving marriages. I officiated at each funeral, maybe a year or so apart. He was lost without his wife for a time, had struggled, they were so close, but now a year and a half had gone by and he was feeling lighter, as if warmth had begun to creep back into his heart. Her story was similar. She was wonderful, kind and wise. She came to services every day after her husband died, and kept coming even after the kaddish period had ended. She and her husband had made a truly good life together, traveling the world, raising children, maintaining friendships. I didn’t know they knew each other, my two widowers, had never thought their social paths would have crossed. At first I thought it was just sheer coincidence that they were sitting next to one another. After all, it was crowded at Friday night services, seats were at a premium, few and far between. Perhaps it was simply fate that cast them together.
But there was something more than that. At least I hope there was. Just the way they sat, like teens on a first date, so intensely aware of where the other was, of how a forearm rested on a chair, or legs crossed. It was one of those things you feel, maybe better to say sense – almost like there was some kind of electricity in the air around them. So carefully keeping their eyes on their prayer books, so intent on not looking up at the wrong time, not wanting to accidentally catching the other’s eye when someone else might see.
And yet the slightest, almost imperceptible, leaning in, one towards the other. In that subtle way it seemed to me they acknowledged something, if not to others than at least to themselves. Yes, we are here together. We are exploring this together, to see what it means, how it feels, how strange, and also exciting, how sad and also maybe how sweet.
There is a passage in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, one of my favorites. The Lady Eowyn has lost one love, and her heart has grown cold and distant. But the possibility of love begins to come back into her life. Slowly, quietly, almost imperceptibly, the young prince Faramir heals her heart. And then finally she understands that it is possible for her to feel love again, and that darkness, even the deepest darkness, can give way to warmth and light.
From Tolkien, the Return of the King, the chapter entitled The Steward and the King”
“Then the heart of Eowyn changed, or she at last understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her.”
“And Faramir took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many. And many indeed saw them and the light that shone about them as they came down from the walls and went hand in hand to the Houses of Healing.”