Tampa, FL

I Saw True Love In a Grocery Store Parking Lot

Sean Kernan

I’m not an avid consumer of romantic literature. Nor do I actively look for symbols of love in dull corners of everyday life. I also don’t typically mill around in parking lots, gawking at random people.

However, I did see this beautiful scene unfold a few years back. It was one of those moments that seems uneventful on paper, but when you watch it up close, you catch a lump in your throat.

I saw love exemplified, in its least glorious, most true form. It’s a version rarely shown on TV.

A hot day in the sun

It was three years ago. I needed to pick up a few things from Publix, a local grocery store here in Tampa, Florida. I was in a bad mood. I’d just bickered with my partner before leaving the house. Consequently, it was one of those get in and get out trips where you aren’t in the mood for any of it.

I’d just zipped out of the entrance with my cart. I was weaving through the busy lot, working my way towards my car. The grocery store had been slammed and was super annoying. I’d parked in the far corner of the lot, the nosebleed section that required running a gauntlet of aggressive drivers to get to.

I squeezed my cart between two cars, carefully watching the sides. I paused to let a car zoom by after it honked at some unseen villain. Grocery stores have a way of bringing out the impatient side in people. The act of shopping, the mere task of getting from point A to point B, speaks to our more selfish selves. You see people’s greed for their time on full display. Everyone, myself included, act like their wife is in labor and they need to get to the hospital. In all of our defense, it was also sunny, humid, and hot, which wasn’t improving anyone’s mood.

A pair unlike most you see

From the corner of my eye, I noticed an elderly couple, one row over. They were shoulder to shoulder, slowly walking to their car. A moment later, I arrived at my car. I slid my grocery bags into the trunk. Then, as I went to close my trunk, I paused and saw them again. There was something interesting about this couple.

The two of them arrived at their vehicle. He was a tiny old man of about 90 years of age. He slowly escorted his elderly wife around to the passenger side. It was an older model Lincoln. She stopped just short of the door. He stepped in front of her. He leaned in. He placed his hand on the door handle, pulled, and opened the large, clunky, door in a steady, deliberate, inching arc.

Then his wife slowly, very slowly, as if time had been reduced to a quarter speed slowly, lowered herself down into her car, while her right hand held his left hand. He stood and remained still, looking forward. He, her watchful statue, one hand tethered, two eyes transfixed, cautiously monitoring her low-gravity descent.

And here I was. Me, this young, impatient, pushy shopper for the last 30 minutes of my life. Here I was, frozen in the blistering heat of Florida, hypnotized by this scene, this slow-motion drama, in this busy, self-serving, Publix parking lot.

She sat down into the seat, with her stiff legs still hanging out of the car. She used her right hand to lift her left leg, which could only bend slightly at one knee. Then she hoisted it inside.

With her husband still standing over her, ever her watchful guardian, she placed both of her hands under her right thigh. Then, in a similar fashion, she brought the other leg over, and then into the car. Then, with unhurried finality, she rested her giant purse on her lap.

Her husband glanced inward. He made sure she was all the way in with no limbs exposed. Then, using both hands, he pushed the big door shut with a hollow click. Finally, he began his own inching, careful shuffle to the driver’s side of the car.

I thought, “He’s probably been opening that car door for her for far longer than I’ve been alive.” I couldn’t help but smile. A gentleman till the end, “That right there is a man who loves his wife.”

I’ve found that healthy love isn’t composed of emotion-fueled pledges, moments of lust, or promises that reek of neuroticism and obsession. Love, in its purest, true form, lives in the monotonous, mundane folds of everyday life. It has staying power. It endures. You can see it. It’s commitment in action. But, really, it’s poetry in motion.

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