Across the tens of thousands of miles together on our Journeys to Love mission, we’ve asked people who have found happiness in their lives and relationships why so many others struggle so with all that. Time and again, we’ve heard how some folks are just too busy comparing their lives and loves to others to ever be truly happy with what they have, or, that their expectations are just so fantastic or lofty that they can never be met - an inevitable disappointment. It always reminds me how my Toni’s expectations for Journeys to Love began similarly, and then as love will, evolved into a deeper understanding.
When first setting out down these many roads, we thought we were journeying forth to discover the “Greatest Love Stories!” I imagined a parade of Browning/Barrett and Gable/Lombard tales, filled with pithy repartee and romantic adventure. But while there has indeed been pith and romance aplenty, the daily love stories we’ve encountered have proven to be much richer than any romantic ideal - and more profoundly common. They evolve past romance into tales of strength, vulnerability, conflict, forgiveness, nobility, and devotion. I’m grateful that our marriage has likewise beheld all these faces of love, and that we also get to witness them in the lives of others across the country. The horizons for these journeys broaden with every tale of this “great love” we all share, rather than the “Great Love Stories” of a few. And it’s all been quite astonishing.
One night amid those unfolding miles and tales, we again sat up until the wee hours of the morning, sharing the photos and video of the previous day’s encounters. Our skills with the cameras and our eye for the technical aspects of composition are definitely improving. We can dissect the elements of our pictures, understanding a little more about the “rule of thirds,” exposure settings, ISO, aperture, shutter speeds, and so on. With the improving technical abilities, however, comes the prospect of our next pictures being works of art, rising inevitably to meet our heightened expectations. Once in a while, luck combines with our growing skill and such a shot actually happens, too. But just like the dangers of missing a meaningful love story while looking for “The Greatest Love Stories”, with those rising artistic expectations comes the danger of forgetting what a picture is really supposed to do – tell its story.
The next day, we visited the actual beach areas of Virginia Beach, Virginia, taking time to christen the bikes with water from the Atlantic, completing their baptisms begun with Pacific, Gulf, and Great Lakes waters. Our search for conversations about love and other tales from the beachgoers was moderately fruitful, as we spoke with a few couples and a group of teenage surfer dudes who gave us their own takes on love and relationships, loosely holding their skateboards and being more than a little distracted by the tanned, curvy bodies sauntering past them. Finishing up our talk, before heading over to grab some amazing beachfront crab cakes and sushi for lunch and hustling back into town for our next full interview, I heard a tiny, plaintive cry from behind us and turned to the sound.
I don’t think as a dad you ever lose the reflex to jump and defend when you hear a child in distress. As it turned out, a cherubic little blond toddler had dropped her beach ball on the boardwalk, which, carried by the shoreside winds, was rushing quickly out of her little life. It was too far away for me to have any shot at being its savior, but a portly fellow pushing a stroller with one hand and eating ice cream with the other stood directly in its path. With no time to compose, frame, choose camera settings, and such, I snapped a quick shot of the little girl as hope dawned within her, and her hands clapped together as if in sudden prayer that this sticky, awkward stranger might avert her tiny tragedy. He deftly scooped up the ball and handed it to her parents on his way by, being careful not to drip ice cream on it in a further display of his fatherly and neighborly superpowers. I thought little more about that moment until I was downloading the pictures for the evening’s up-too-late media reviews. The picture was just a snapshot – it is by no artistic or technical measure a great picture. But I loved it, because it captured the immense hope framed on that little face. It told the story of that moment. It was, for lack of a better term, a moving picture.
And that is my most beloved takeaway from that day, that moment; another something I will keep in mind as we continue our Journeys to Love quest. Expectations and comparisons are best set aside in our lives and our loves. Instead, we should look for meaning rather than definitions, letting the stories that come to us be told in their everyday glory, rather than waiting for perfect moments, epiphanies, and transcendent words. Then, the little hopes that are fulfilled, like the return of your treasured beach ball, the spontaneous touch of a friend or lover, and small kindnesses from strangers, become the real stories in our lives. They nearly always happen, not when we expect them (and almost never when we try to control or plan them,) but when we are simply open to them in their own time. And that’s the thing about Happily Ever After, too - It’s something that will never happen to us in the future - not because it’s not possible, but because it’s always here, always possible, always now.
And of all the discoveries we’d anticipated on our Journeys…we never expected that.