On my way back from the library this morning I saw Loretta and Joe, a couple in their 80’s who are frequently walking arm and arm through the neighborhood. Today is soft and cool, with wet black boughs against a grey sky and the promise of more rain soon to soften the soil. Loretta and Joe wore windbreakers in shades of purple- his softer, hers brighter- and he carried a dapper black and white umbrella. Her arm was in his, and he steadied her as they made their way. They live at the top of the hill at Canterbury Place, a beautiful building that marries a hundred year old Episcopal Home and former orphanage with modern architecture and a sky high floor of glass walls with gas fireplaces and a spectacular view of the downtown.
Every other week I bundle the baby into her sling and halfway run up the hill, since I am almost late, to teach Gentle Stretch at Canterbury Place. There are a wide range of residents, some with Alzheimers and some in need of intensive care, but I teach a group of genteel elderly persons who are always thrilled to see me, mostly because I come bearing the baby. We spend half an hour reaching for the ceiling and swimming through invisible waves, rolling our shoulders and pointing our toes. After six months the regulars are surprisingly limber, which goes to show that it is never to late to stretch ourselves, but the real draw is clearly Olympia. She has been coming since she was a month old, and now on the cusp of a year, on the verge of walking, she is able to wave and coo and holler to express her delight in the roomful of adoring grandparents.
Loretta and Joe joined the group just after Christmas. They are white haired, lean, and have come to resemble each other in the way that long married couples often do. They are the only couple in the class, and so I have watched them closely. Loretta is blind in one blue eye, and at first she seemed vulnerable and confused. Joe is protective, one arm curved around her often, both eyes on her and ready to offer an explanation or a brief smile. Lately she is smiling more, and as the snow thaws and the spring slowly softens the edges of the world I have seen them walking together more and more. Joe told me that they used to walk all over the city- once taking an afternoon and covering twenty miles in one day. As the days lengthen, they plan to slowly lengthen their walks through this neighborhood.
Watching Loretta and Joe disappear down the hill , her hand on his arm and his body protecting hers, it is clear that the fact that they are still twined together is what strengthens them both, allowing them to stretch and explore the beauty of this world, even as their frailty increases. I am so grateful for my old people, and they way that they have taught me to stretch my conceptions of aging, marriage, and living.