Artwork: The Title Lobby Card From Renoir’s 1947 Film “Woman On The Beach…”
A few days before our daughter’s wedding at Seagrove Beach, I met a woman walking on the beach near the wedding venue. She appeared to be in her 70s, but very fit and outgoing. She asked if I was on vacation, and I told her about my daughter’s upcoming wedding.
“Oh, can I come?” Her eyes lit up with excitement.
“Well, it will be on the beach, so anyone can watch the ceremony.”
“I’d love to come and have a glass of wine with you!”
“Um, the reception is actually a small, private, mostly family affair.”
“That’s okay. I’ll bring my own wine.”
The woman tagged along with me on my walk for about ten minutes after that and told me her story. I’ve changed a few of the details, but this is basically what she told me:
“I live on the tenth floor of that high rise down there (she points) which my son owns. I lease it from him. But now he and my other kids want to have me committed. They think I’m crazy, just because I want to live on the beach! I love it here. I walk about 7 miles every day… all the way down to Deer Creek Park and back. I’ve got lots of friends here who know I’m not crazy, and they’re signing a petition saying so.”
At this point I have to slow down because my recently broken ankle is bothering me just a bit. She notices and asks if I’m okay, so I tell her I broke my ankle 6 weeks ago and it’s healing.
“Oh, honey, I’ve got two pulled tendons in this foot and an old stress fracture in this one, but I just ignore them and keep on going.”
I look down at her feet, which are both swollen. Her body is trim and fit. Her hair is short and blond-streaked. There is something a bit crazed about her eyes and her smile. As we approach my condo I tell her I’ve got to go, but I’ll be praying for her. (I’m remembering River Jordan’s book, Praying For Strangers, and thinking how this woman would definitely have been River’s stranger had she met her, but I guess she’s mine, and I wasn’t even looking for one.)
“Okay. Take care of your foot, and I’ll see you at the wedding!”
I didn’t think about the woman at the beach over the next few days as the wedding preparations went into full gear. But at the end of the wedding, just as the wedding party was gathering for photographs, there she was. She just walked up to my daughter and congratulated her. Of course Beth had no idea who she was, so I stepped up and said, “Hi, Linda.”
She gave me a hug, and I hugged her back.
“What a beautiful bride!”
“Yes, isn’t she?” I noticed she didn’t have a glass of wine in her hand and I worried for a minute that she might follow the other guests up the steps to the reception. “Um, we’ve got to take some more photographs, but thanks for coming by.”
Smiling her crazed smile, she walked off down the beach. I couldn’t help but wonder if I might end up like her one day. If I do, I wonder if my children will let me live on the beach.
When I returned home to Memphis and thought about the encounter, I remembered Joan Anderson’s books, which I read a few years ago, especially A Walk on the Beach. In A Year by the Sea and An Unfinished Marriage, Anderson shared her account of taking a break from her marriage and spending a year of solitude at the beach. In A Walk on the Beach, she introduces the inspiring woman she befriended during that time: Joan Erikson, wife of psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. But unlike “Linda,” Joan wasn’t crazy, and her year by the sea resulted in a renewal of her marriage. The beach can be healing that way. I hope it will heal Linda enough to allow her to live by the sea for a bit longer.