The bar was crowded for a Tuesday evening. Then again, it was Edinburgh. Men and women who I could only assume were regulars, were perched on wooden bar stools, chatting familiarly with the bartender, a ruddy faced, bright-eyed and cheerful woman who managed the bar with the expertise of someone who had been pouring pints, and sharing laughs with locals for years.

Groups of friends were clustered together throughout the small room, like batches of flowers sporadically dotting a field of green grass. One group was comprised of four young women, each with a uniquely vibrant shade of artificial hair color. Cotton candy pink, mermaid blue, streaks of emerald green, and vibrant red tips. Another group was comprised of men wearing football jerseys, casually tipping back pints and laughing boisterously. Still another group of couples sat together in the front of the room, seemingly recounting stories and memories shared together, teasing one another mercilessly.

From what I could tell, we were the only tourists, looking for an authentic Scottish pub experience on our first night in Edinburgh. Inside the tiny corner bar, on the edge of the Royal Mile, we thought we’d found it. Wood paneled walls, low lights, rickety wooden tables and chairs, Innis & Gunn on tap, served by bartenders who wouldn’t allow you to choose an English beer if they had anything to say about it. Soccer, no, football, on the muted televisions, flags of Scottish clans decorating the ceiling, and photos of men in kilts behind dusty frames of glass, mounted on the walls.

Then there was the music.

A gray-haired man with his acoustic guitar was tucked into the front corner of the room, between the door to the cobblestone streets and the big glass windows that lined the front of the pub. The sound of his spirited, folksy guitar playing and smooth tenor voice was what pulled us in to the otherwise non-descript bar in the first place. We could hear his lilting brogue and strumming chords as we walked along the stone streets, surrounded by ancient buildings that all looked like castles.

After obtaining our pints of Scottish beer (of course), we sat in the back corner of the pub, me attempting to absorb the authenticity of the experience the way any good American tourist would do. I tapped my feet and bounced my head along with the traditional, peppy Scottish ballads and smiled with amusement when the musician interspersed his Scottish songs with the best of James Taylor. Then, in between songs, when the singer engaged in witty banter with the crowd, or introduced his next set, I’d tilt my head to the side and squint my eyes as if these actions would somehow help me interpret his words — his English words — that were laden with the heavily accented cadence that defined the Scottish brogue.

Despite all there was to see and observe in this authentic, Scottish pub that I had wanted so badly to experience, more than anything I was enthralled by the couple sitting together at the table next to us.

It was as if there was no one in the room but them, and the lilting, warm voice of the man with the guitar. They sat next to each other, hands stacked on top of one another on the worn, wooden table, staring only into each other’s eyes.

I guessed that they were in their 70s, but they had the unabashed, and unfiltered look of childhood sweethearts. Perhaps they were. Their familiarity, and the way they clung to one another, like two sailors stranded in a lifeboat among an untamed sea, gave me the impression that they had lived their entire lives loving one another, and only one another, unconditionally.

They were dressed with impeccable taste. He wore a navy blazer and button down shirt and polished shoes. She wore a matching pantsuit of sea green with blue accents, and gold bracelets, necklaces and earrings that reaffirmed she was a classy, sophisticated lady. She had carefully applied makeup, and expertly curled blonde hair, and carried herself with dignity and respect.

I also had the sense, from my intrusive observations, that perhaps she was no longer in good health. Perhaps it was her willow-thin frame, or the way it seemed an effort for her to lift her pint glass to her pink, painted lips. Perhaps it was the protective way he held his arm around her shoulders and patted her fragile hands, or the way he stood to help guide her up from their table and set her gingerly on her course to the ladies room. Perhaps it was the way he looked at her, with eyes that pledged unending love, tinged with a sadness that was the only thing that seemed out of place in the whole room.

She clung to him just as desperately, batting her eyelashes at his whispered words, and tucking her chin coquettishly, a smile on her face that did not meet her eyes.

Toward the end of the evening, the musician began to sing a cover of a contemporary Scottish love song by David Francey. It was unfamiliar to me, but the locals in the room swayed and hummed with familiarity and appreciation. As the musician sang, I couldn’t help but watch the couple beside us. Their eyes were locked on one another as if the song had been chosen just for them, and no one else. They seemed familiar with the melody, and seemed to know every word, anticipating each verse with an intimate understanding.

I saw you first in the smoky café light
Where I’d come in from the frozen winter night
And I saw a face that put the stars to shame
I loved you ‘fore I ever knew your name
And my heart sank, lost without a trace
And it’s a lucky man that gets to kiss your face

The man held the woman’s hands protectively in his, and my eyes followed hers to look at them piled together on the table. The skin of her hands was tissue paper thin, delicate, and fragile, while his were strong, despite swollen knuckles that looked like they had spent decades hammering nails and fixing things that were broken. The musician crooned on.

I’ve seen you shine in the summer, spring and fall
But it’s winter when I love you best of all
And I’ve seen you in the spotlight hard and bright
And I’ve seen you in the shadows of the night
And when I see you coming I can feel my cold heart race
And it’s a lucky man that gets to kiss your face

They were staring at each other now. Her eyes glistened and I noticed I too was trying to hold back tears. She tilted her head to the side, and this time her smile did reach her eyes, and it seemed to warm and brighten his whole face in return.

I heard you singing to that empty hall
And I heard the joy that echoed off the walls
And I realized when all is said and done
That youth is never wasted on the young
And I don’t believe the silence of this place
And it’s a lucky man that gets to kiss your face

As the song ended, the man kissed the woman gently. It was perhaps the thousandth, or the millionth time he had kissed her, yet he did it with the gentle reverence of love’s first kiss, and of a man who had never taken her presence for granted, and never would. She smiled at him, and in the look they shared was all that needed to be said between them.

Shortly after the song ended, the couple left the bar, she walking trepidatiously, and he gently guiding her, his hand under her elbow. They nodded their appreciation to the musician, who smiled and thanked them in return.

The musician packed-up shortly after the couple left, and we too walked back to our hotel through the dark, cool night. Me, reflecting on my new appreciation for the concept of authenticity.

It’s been months since that night in Edinburgh, but I find myself thinking about that couple all the time. I wonder what their real story is. I wonder if they’re well. Perhaps more than anything, I think to myself that someday, theirs is the kind of love I still want to have for myself. The kind that has weathered the storm of decades, that transcends age and sickness, and is grateful for every look, every moment, and every kiss.

I find myself, looking at couples sitting in crowded restaurants, tapping agitated messages on their smartphones, or sighing heavily as they argue over mundane daily nuances, and realize just how special and rare real love truly is.

I remind myself to be grateful for every day, and not to waste a moment on the details of life that someday won’t matter anymore. I remind myself, that our lives are not meant to be lived alone, and that you can accomplish anything, as long as you have someone willing to hold your hand in the dark and see you through the best of times and the worst of times. I like to think the couple from the pub would agree, and then share a kiss that is a pledge, and a promise for forever.

Originally published at

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