This Sunday, PBS will premiere a charming new six-part series (airing on Sundays, September 8-October 13, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET) called Last Tango In Halifax. It's about a pair of childhood sweethearts who are widowed in their 70s and fall in love all over again when they’re reunited after almost 60 years. This romantic comedy/drama starring Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid shines a light on the possibility of second chances and long-lasting love, just as a hit song from superstar Justin Timberlake did last spring.
In March, he released his third album, The 20/20 Experience, a neo-soul collection of seven-minute-plus songs featuring his signature falsetto croon backed up by lush orchestral surges. And, in so doing, the pop artist gave people of all ages good reason to stand up and take note, not only of his music but of what he seems to understand about life and love — namely, its impact over a lifetime.
The record quickly rose to the top of the charts, selling 1.29 million copies in two weeks and becoming the year’s best-selling album. You might have seen Target’s commercial for an exclusive, deluxe edition of the album, which showed the pop star making a surprise personal appearance on the set and shocking super fans who had been invited to sing “Mirrors,” one of two bonus tracks released as singles.
The song’s lyrics express how a deep love between two people imprints their very being, how those we carry in our hearts, minds and souls shape our core and our outer behaviors, how the impact of a loved one ripples through our life forevermore.
The “Mirrors” video, by Italian photographer and director Floria Sigismondi, chronicles a couple's lifelong love affair and is dedicated to Timberlake’s grandparents, Sadie and William, who were married for 63 years. (William died in December 2012.) The visuals, which cut back and forth between the past and present, express the arc of a relationship from youth through old age, showing that a deep-seated bond lasts well after life ends — along with memories, both joyful and painful.
I was moved by the video’s narrative and the stunning lined faces of the actors who portray the couple in older age. But this video, and the new PBS series, also gripped me because they remind me of another amazing love story — my mother’s.
After her 17-year marriage to my father and a second 25-year-long one to another man (both ended in divorce), she spent six years on her own. And though she dated during that period, she finally stopped focusing on marriage, which her parents had taught her was more vital than her own well-being.
Not long after she turned 65, she was out for a walk with a girlfriend and the two of them started talking to a couple on the path about a book they had been discussing. My mother ended up chatting with the fellow and when he mentioned he was from a small community that related to the book’s topic, it rang a bell for my mom. “Oh, my very first boyfriend lived there,” she said. “I was 16 at the time. Did you know him?” When she told him the name, the guy said that he not only knew him but was friends with him, that he was a professor at a prominent Midwestern university and that his wife had recently died.
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He urged my mother to get in touch with her long-ago boyfriend. Given that my mother was living in the Middle East at the time, heading to Prague the next day for a two-week trip and hadn’t seen the professor in 47 years, she experienced quite a bit of trepidation at the thought of reaching out to him. But she managed to overcome her anxiety and left a message that evening on his answering machine.
He returned the call and she responded as soon as she got back from her trip. Remarkably, they’ve been inseparable ever since — they’re going on 13 years together.
The happenstance way in which their reconnection occurred still makes me shake my head in disbelief. But what is even more extraordinary to me is how beautiful their relationship is and the sense of destiny, possibility and hope I feel whenever I’m around them. Like any couple, they have their glitch-filled moments but, overall, they embody for me what Timberlake describes in both the lyrics and video of "Mirrors" and what Last Tango in Halifax depicts. I sense that these individuals truly reflect each other's energy and light.
In the first verse Timberlake sings:
Aren't you somethin' to admire, cause your shine is somethin' like a mirror
And I can't help but notice, you reflect in this heart of mine
If you ever feel alone and the glare makes me hard to find
Just know that I'm always parallel on the other side.
And here’s the relevant part of the chorus:
And I'll tell you, baby, it was easy
Comin' back into you once I figured it out
You were right here all along
It's like you're my mirror
My mirror staring back at me
My mom and her mate both feel that the timing of their reconnection was exactly what it needed to be — that they had to experience certain things and complete various tasks before their relationship could take flight and flourish.
They rediscovered each other after a great deal of personal evolution had taken place. This gave them the solid foundation required for making the most of their already existent bond and becoming the best version of themselves.
What rules their interactions today are qualities and choices known to drive happiness whether one is in an intimate relationship or not: kindness, patience, deep listening, forgiveness, knowing what’s worth dwelling on and what isn’t.
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Like most of us, I’m forever looking in on others’ relationships and mentally trying them on for size. All, of course, are filled with opportunities for learning and growth, moments of hurt and moments of joy. One hopes that, in the balance, the ups outweigh the downs and that the nourishing aspects — friendship, companionship, supportiveness and love — grow bigger and more potent by the day.
The fictional couple in the Last Tango in Halifax series and the "Mirrors" video — and the real-life one in my family — display a timeless inner radiance rooted in their responses to life. But more important, all three couples seem to have worked on shaping the kind of authentic relationship that can help them withstand anything that life rains down on them.
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