And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This afternoon, I was actually sitting in my Starbucks, rather than just driving through. I was meeting a wonderful student who I’ve known for a number of years. While I was waiting for her arrival, I noticed a car pull slowly into the handicapped space. A man, I guessed in his early eighties, got out and walked to the passenger side. He opened the door, offered his arm, and helped a woman out.

I can’t tell for sure, of course, but I think she was his wife. She continued to lean on his arm and they walked in together, side by side, heads turned toward each other, talking. Both were smiling. He helped her up the curb, held the door for her, and then they came inside.

I continued to watch. He was so solicitous! He helped her off with her coat, draping it carefully over the shoulders of her chair before he pulled the chair out for her as well. Only when she was settled did he take off his own coat and then he approached the counter and placed their order. He had a black coffee, she had tea, and he ordered some cookies.

“Two,” he requested, and then he pointed to exactly which ones. “On a plate. Please.”

He set up a little picnic for them. Napkins neatly at their right elbows, stir sticks on the napkins, the cookies on their plate neatly centered between them. When he brought their drinks, he waited patiently as she dunked a teabag for what felt like a certain well-known amount of times. Then he wrapped the dripping bag in a napkin and held it while he opened three packets of sugar and poured it into her cup. He took the garbage to the bin while she stirred. Again, I felt like it was a prescribed number of times. She smiled in his direction the whole time she stirred. He smiled at her as he walked slowly back to her.

And then the best thing. Before he sat down, he stood next to her, put his arm around her shoulders, and rested his cheek against the top of her head. I have no idea if they said anything. If they did, they didn’t have to. What they were saying was clear to me. It was clear to the entire world.

And I thought, I am seeing the actual definition of tender. The actual definition of devotion.

When he sat down, he held her hand. They used their free hands to each lift a cookie, bite, set it down, sip their coffee or tea, and then repeat.

A prescribed number of times. For what I’m sure was a routine for many, many years. And while it was routine, while it was everyday, they could probably do it all with their eyes closed, they kept their eyes open. And on each other. The routine was savored. And they were each treasured.

My student arrived soon after and as I fell into conversation, my attention shifted and I stopped noticing the couple. I never saw them leave, but I’m sure they were arm in arm the whole way. I’m sure he opened the café door for her, the car door, and made sure she was comfortable and safely belted in before he got behind the steering wheel. But I thought about them for the rest of the afternoon. They made me smile.

Tenderness. Devotion.

Earlier this week, in a discussion of the Academy Awards, I said that I wanted to be just like Meryl Streep when I get to be her age. I said I wanted to be like Helen Mirren. I said I wanted to be like Dame Judy Dench.

Today, I want to be like that lovely woman in Starbucks. And I’m going to hug Michael extra-hard when he gets home.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Our engagement photo. From 1997.

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