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Viral portrait of love: Man teaches girlfriend to read after stroke

Jan. 23, 2013 at 9:39 AM ET

It’s a picture that has warmed 2 million hearts and counting.

In it, a man uses flash cards to help his sweetheart relearn the alphabet. The photo was snapped by a stranger captivated by the elderly couple’s unconditional devotion to each other.

“We could feel the love emanating off of them,” said Matthew Ballestero, who took the picture earlier this month while with friends at a local Starbucks. The coffee shop is the site where 82-year-old John Allen takes his longtime love, Linda Alexander, for her reading lesson six mornings a week.

Alexander, 70, lost much of her memory after a sudden illness five years ago led to a stroke and severe brain damage. “For a while, I couldn’t even talk – except to say, ‘I love you,’” she told NBC's Kristen Dahlgren in a segment that aired Wednesday on TODAY.

In addition to daily reading lessons, Allen also takes Alexander to the gym three days a week to help her strengthen the right side of her body, which is still partially paralyzed.

“I want to be able to drive. And I want to be able to, to, to...” Alexander said, her fingers motioning as if following the text of a book.

Allen helped her along: “Read.”

“...Read,” she finished. “And I want to do the things, those that I did before.”

But it’s not all work for the couple, who also make sure a romantic lunch is part of their daily routine.

“I’m still enjoying my life, you know? I'm not sad. I'm not angry,” Alexander said.

The couple’s mutual affection immediately captured Ballestero’s attention when he stopped by a Starbucks with some friends. The photo he took was posted on the online forum Reddit with a short caption that ended, “Patience, love and understanding at its finest.” Ballestero then shared the photo on his Facebook page with the full story behind the picture.

“My friends and I were overwhelmed by the love that these two had for each other, and I knew I wanted to let them know how much of an inspiration and a perfect example of true love they were to me,” Ballestero wrote in the lengthy caption in which he described meeting the couple, who explained how Alexander had lost her memory.

“You may be losing your memory, Linda, but the love that you and John have for each other will never be lost. Thank you for your beautiful example, Linda and John!" Ballestero wrote.

The photo has drawn more than two million viewers, with many of them expressing how the couple's unconditional love has inspired them.

“Every time I need more patience, I will think of this picture,” wrote one person on Reddit.

“What a beautiful example of true love,” said another.

 

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