Their names are Jack and Wanda, and they’ve been married for 70 years. This week I saw a photograph of them that drew me in to a brief moment of their long life together, a photograph that told a story. He, looking thin and weary, sits on the edge of a nursing home bed. Under him, a cozy-looking fuzzy blanket covers the bed, perhaps a small comfort of home. She is confined to a wheelchair, yet she leans forward as best she can, laying her head on his chest and wrapping her arms around his waist. It looks as if he is comforting her. And that is why he has come. He has been trying to manage her dementia and keep her at home, but now he is becoming too frail to care for her, and suddenly, he lives alone for the first time since the early 1950s.
It looks as if he is comforting her, but the truth is, she is trying to comfort him. You can’t really see it in the picture, but he is crying. And she, as she almost always does when he visits, assures him that she is coming home. You see, every time he comes by, she believes he is there to pick her up and take her back to the home and life that they have known.
When Chad saw the photograph, he commented that it reminds him of the Andrew Peterson song, “Is He Worthy?”
Do you feel the shadows deepen?
Do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?
He said, “There’s light in that picture, too.”
I think everyone who sees this image of Jack and Wanda is struck by a few things. One is the raw honesty of it. In a world where so much of our lives are fabricated for social media, here is a truly sincere millisecond of real life. It captures, in some small way, the painful intersection of love and grief and old age and longing. They are mourning together. At the same time, we see a great love demonstrated in their embrace. How many times over 70 years have they forgiven, grieved, rejoiced, sacrificed, loved and cherished through a similar embrace? Only God knows.
Another thing that strikes those who run across this picture is the tragedy of it. This is not how we want fairy tales to end. We don’t want poor health and failing minds and separation where strangers are more regular companions than the ones we love. We see this photo and hear a little bit of the story behind it, and we feel sadness. Maybe we even feel fear, because this is not how we imagine our own stories ending either, but what if? And what if something worse?
But in all of these things that intrigue us and worry us and scare us and inspire us about this photograph, I think there is one thing that those of us who are Christ followers must acknowledge, and that is the light. Chad was right when he said there is light in this picture. Human relationships are an incredible blessing: God created mankind in His image, and He created us for relationship. Few things in this life are more beautiful than people who share a bond of love and self-sacrifice. When we see Jack and Wanda, we glimpse shades of God’s gracious care for us because He is the author of love.
But there is another light that shows in this image, and that is hope. You see, if Jack and Wanda had only one opportunity to live, and this was the true end of their story, how could they bear the grief? How could Jack really continue to get up in the morning in the silent house he used to share with his closest friend and go to the nursing home, just to remind her again that he hasn’t come to take her away?
I said if.
But Jack and Wanda have a real future ahead, and that future won’t be bogged down by health concerns or confusion or sorrow. They may be husband and wife for a span of six or seven decades, but they will be joint heirs with Christ forever and ever. No more sad goodbyes. No more forgetting. No more longing. Their hope is Jesus, and He is the light of the world, the light of the morgue, the light of the battlefield, the light of the nursing home.
But the hope of Christ isn’t only a hope for the future. It’s a hope for right now, too. Through Jesus, Jack and Wanda can also experience peace, comfort, joy, and an ever-increasing faith day by day, even now, in sorrow, in suffering, in weakness.
The traditional gift for the 70th wedding anniversary is platinum, one of the purest metals in the world. It seems like an apt representation of this momentary peek into one couple’s story. Here in a grainy image we see the purity of Christ: when shadows deepen, He is the light. He’s shining brightly here.