There was a town called Lightford. It was just off the highway. Lightford was one of those towns that thousands drive through every day without ever stopping or ever seeing anyone or anything that made up the fabric of the town. Most simply passed through. Others would stop for a while before moving on. The rest were the town.
There was a young woman who lived in Lightford. She had lived there all her life. Lightford was comfortable for her. She knew all the streets and all the faces and they knew her. Despite the comfort of familiarity that Lightford provided her, she often longed for more. Sometimes she thought about leaving Lightford behind, but whenever she began to dream of leaving, something would frighten her. She wondered if she reached for more than she had if she might fall or fail.
She was a very beautiful and personable woman whose smile could light up a room. There had been many men in her life, most of which had come and gone very quickly. Sometimes she ran from them and sometimes she convinced them to run from her. Most of the time they bored her. She was longing for something else, but did not know what it was, so she kept running through the same patterns. She began to suffer anxiety and periods of loneliness and depression. She found herself wanting someone to relieve her loneliness, but all too often she continued to feel alone even with someone else in the room.
The patterns of her life sent her into a spiral. She would seek to ease the loneliness and complacency by any means possible.
A stranger was passing through Lightford. They began to talk and found they were kindred souls. She felt in him something that had always been missing. It frightened her, as he was a traveler who avoided putting down roots and had little concern for things like financial security and the trappings of a normal lifestyle. Yet, she knew he could love her and answer the echo in her heart.
He offered to stay, even though this was not his way, and she told him he could not. He gave her his love, and she was uncertain of what he meant. When a man told her that he loved her, there were always strings attached. They wanted her to change. They wanted her to meet certain expectations and commitments. No one understood how to speak to her, but the stranger did. He asked for nothing. He left town. She went back to trying to lead a normal life.
Years passed, and with it many seasons. Men came and went in her life and nothing ever changed. The same patterns unfolded and she remained alone with her misery. Sometimes she would reach out to the stranger. He never abandoned her and he never stopped loving her. She did not understand how this could be. She never gave him anything in return for his love and she ran away from him whenever being near him awakened something inside she did not want to face. She was frightened and eventually she began to think that if she ever welcomed the stranger into her life with open arms he would be disappointed or reject her and she would no longer have him at all.
He tried to explain the nature of love to her, to help reconcile the guilt and sorrow she felt when she thought of him. He told her that love does not carry with it expectations or demands. It has a life of its own and that real love means more than a schedule and a book of rules. He asked only that she allow him to love her, and every time she ran, he would be there when she came back. Yet, he was not one of those men who would take abuse and apologize to her when she abused him. He did not whine about how much he wanted to be with her. He wasn't waiting for her to become his lover. He simply loved her.
"Love is not real if it demands compensation," the stranger told her.
After so many years, she wanted to give him something to thank him for always being there and always caring. She searched everywhere for the perfect present, but nothing seemed to fit the message she wanted to convey. There was no way to show her gratitude with a toaster or a shirt.
As more years passed, she asked him how she could possibly thank him for being there for her. He smiled and shook his head.
"Love is its own reward. You let me love you. That is the greatest gift anyone can give another."