The prompt this time is this one photo. It’s what inspired what I wrote below.
It’s a hot clear day in Corsica. Our ship is docked in the large port, well out of sight, and we’ve taken a fifteen-minute bus ride down the white coastline to spend the day at the beach. The Tyrrhenian Sea is so clear, you can see the sand beneath your feet a hundred yards from shore.
Everything is blue.
The beach is filled with beautiful, dark-skinned families with thick black hair and large brown eyes. But in line for the restroom, I share a tiny patch of shade with a man who looks more like me: fair-skinned with blue eyes. We have a conversation in broken English and French, and I notice he has a similar stocky frame, threads of silver in his dark blonde hair, a few lines on his forehead and around his eyes. He’s muscular, but has the softer stomach and chest that often come with middle age. I find him beautiful, and even more so later, as he lies on the chaise next to me, and I wonder for a moment if that’s how some people see me as well. For a moment, I stop self-denigrating and feel a strong appreciation for my own body, still vital and healthy after all these years of living.
When the sun becomes too hot, I lie on my back in the water, and I realize it’s been 26 years since I escaped this way: a long, lazy day at the beach, floating in the sea, looking up at the sky.
I can only see the sky above me and feel my body, weightless. With my ears in the water the only sound I can hear is my own breath, my lungs filling and emptying, filling and emptying, and I wonder how my breathing will feel different after surgery.
Everything is blue.
After we return to the ship, I can’t pull myself out of this lovely, languid laziness. We’ve pulled away from shore and are once again at sea. There’s a pool party going on on the Lido Deck; house music is pumping from the speakers and young men are dancing in their skimpy bathing suits. But I don’t feel like dancing, so I’ve found a shady chaise on the Observation Deck, starboard side, away from the views of land and three floors above the poolside disco. My friend has gone to get us drinks, and for a moment, I am alone on the deck with only the sea rushing by. Tall glass wind guards frame the view.
I have a sudden rush of gratitude for this life I’m living. A voice inside me hollers, “I want to live!” like Susan Hayward (which really means, “I’m afraid to die!”), and though I laugh at my own melodrama, I am also acutely aware of the short time left before my upcoming surgery—just thirteen days now—and that old fear rises up again like ice in my chest. Focusing on my breath takes on a whole new meaning when I feel anxious about losing a part of my lung, but I do it right then and there, and stare at all that beautiful blue moving swiftly by on the other side of the glass.
What if death is like this? I think, replacing my fear of nothingness. What if death is just a blue sky and a blue ocean rolling by endlessly? It could be true. What if the afterlife is simply an endless sunlit blue day at sea until we bloom again into something else: a grasshopper, a wild iris, a volcano, or a newborn baby? But the problem I have with the concept of reincarnation is that it still seems like just another way of dealing with our fear of death. Who knows what happens after you die? No one.
Anyway, I tell myself, nobody’s dying right now. We’re out at sea; we’re having cocktails; I’m reading a hardcover of beautiful prose, signed by the author, a gift from a friend who shook that author’s hand, who looked into his eyes. We’re heading to Rome tomorrow, then to Mallorca. We’re on a luxury cruise ship. There are no catastrophes here. None at all.