So there I was, hiding from the security guards on the forbidden staircase in front of The Gates of Hell, when I felt a presence at my side. Submitted for Valentine’s Day, my how-I-met-your-mother story.

The opening scene: the Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Art, East Wing, Washington, DC. I was on an uneventful but pleasant solo vacation. On my last day, I went to see “Rodin Rediscovered” with the idea of focusing on Rodin’s charcoals and The Gates of Hell.

The Gates of Hell is a monumental sculpture based on Dante’s Inferno. Although massive, standing 6x4x1 meters (19.7×13.1×3.3 feet), it moves and pulses with energy. The Gates contains 180 figures, including The Thinker, The Three Shades, The Kiss and Adam and Eve.

The exhibit was designed with two views: one from a balcony highlighting the magnitude of the work, as well as the detail on the top the Gates. Walking down spiral staircases on either side of the Gates – where stopping was prohibited – one could get to the second view: the floor in front of the sculpture, a great place to see the detail at the bottom.

So there I was, hiding from the security guards on the forbidden staircase in front of The Gates of Hell, trying to sneak a view of the center of the sculpture, when I felt a presence at my side. A young art student finishing a B.A. in photography, Ami was on the first day of her vacation. We spent the morning together drifting through the exhibit and talking about sculpture, art, music, creativity. She was beautiful.

At the end of the morning, as we headed out of the museum, I asked, “If I extend my vacation a day, will you spend it with me?” She said, “Of course,” adding this: “You know, we’re going to be married.” I asked if that was a proposal. No, she said, a fact. But in case it was unclear, however, she proposed then and there.

On a bench in the sunshine outside of the National Gallery of Art on the day we met, my wife of 27 years proposed.

She was silent on the day we parted forever.

The closing scene: a hospital ICU. Having fallen down a set of wooden stairs, Ami z”l was slipping effortlessly toward brain death when my two daughters and I arrived at the hospital. Yes, in that half-day there were moments of grace and beauty. And it was hell.

It ended like this: “Time to say one last good-bye,” I told my girls as we stood holding hands. Wordlessly, they walked the few steps to their mother’s deathbed, then they moved to either side of their mom. Each girl had a head on one of her Ami’s shoulders, and they held hands across her belly, eyes closed, gently crying. There were no words, no sounds. After a few minutes, I escorted Nikki, and my sister-in-law Donna escorted Dana, out of the room. That was the last time we saw Ami. She was 53 years old.

We met and parted at the gates of hell. Ah, but those years between, I wouldn’t trade them away. And I still believe that there’s the chance for love, the chance for romance, in every single moment.

I didn’t say yes immediately. After Ami proposed, I agreed to try living with her first. “It would have been a better story,” she’d say, “if you said ‘yes’ right then and there.”

Maybe next time I’ll be the brave one.

Here’s a prayer I wrote “For New Love:”

For New Love
G-d of mystery and majesty,
Creator of redemption and hope,
I give thanks for the gift of new love.
Grant me the gentleness and courage,
The bravery and patience,
To let this love unfold like a flower,
A source of wonder and beauty
To be nurtured, blessed, praised and cherished
For what it is in this moment:
A seed with tiny imperceptible roots
And the beginning of a fragile stem hidden within.
It may take hold – and this would be beautiful –
Or it may wash away, which is the nature of some things.
This seed has so much energy,
So much G-d given yearning for life,
Yearning to hold fast in the cradle of earth,
Yearning to reach for warmth and light,
That it may yield a meadow,
A sea of wild flowers,
Perhaps fragile,
Perhaps sturdy,
Always seeking light and air and earth.
Or it may disappear in the wind.

Heavenly source of radiance and splendor,
Let this new love be a blessing.
Give it strong roots to stay planted firmly against the elements
And a hearty stalk to bend gracefully with the seasons.
You who know the deepest mysteries of the heart,
May our moments together yield blessings for us
And for everyone we meet.

Blessed are You,
Source of blessing and love.

© 2011 Alden Solovy and All rights reserved.