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Avoiding the sun but not the glory of the beach

March 9, 2015
Maggie Wolff Peterson , Shepherdstown Chronicle

The weather closed in on my last afternoon in Florida, and what had been a sunny, bright morning became a chill, foggy afternoon. That was perfect for me. I am still avoiding the sun, since a series of four surgeries in February (and one more to go) rebuilt my face after a nasty cancer tried to consume it. That was the consequence of too much sun, over too many years, without enough protection. I loved those beachfront summers with my naked face in the sun, reading books in my low-slung chair and becoming brown. Half a lifetime of that pleasure was distilled in one moment of hard reality when the dermatologist said, as he swiped his blade, "I will biopsy this but I can tell you now, It's going to be bad."

Since then, my genius surgeon has put me back together such that eventually only those who know me well will know where to look to see the difference. But for now, with sensitive scars, I'm sticking to indoor entertainments. After weeks of hibernation and healing at home, I ventured to Florida, with its famed winter sunshine. Mom and Dad live there. I left behind a world of three colors: white snow, denuded trees, gray skies. From my parents' windows, my eyes feasted on green palms, pink flowers, blue water.

On my last afternoon, we found a bar with tall tables against large windows overlooking a deserted beach. The chill had chased the bathers away. The seasonal crush of snowbirds that overruns Florida in the deepest winter months had seemingly evaporated into the fog.

The bar still offered summery drinks made with pineapple and ginger and rum, and the mojito I ordered arrived swimming with crushed mint. From the appetizer menu came a tropical version of nachos, with fried wontons replacing the tortilla chips, and toppings that included spiced pulled pork. We couldn't eat it fast enough.

"Bring us some grouper tacos," we next implored the wait staff.

Another mojito accompanied those. Outside, the surf crashed against the sand.

By the time we ordered calmari, the calm fog beyond the windows beckoned me with its wispy protection. Maybe for just a minute, I could put my toes in the sand, my feet in the surf. I know well enough that the sun's damaging radiation penetrates fog; I got the worst sunburn of my life as a teenager on a youth-group beach trip one long-ago cloudy day. But there was no bright sunshine beyond the windows, just soft gray. I got up.

Excusing myself from the table, I crossed the deck and descended four steps to the beach. The sound of the surf increased. I smelled the salt and felt air moistened by the sea. Sand crept into my shoes.

I was on the beach. Not scarred and retreating from the world, but in it. Not healing and waiting to be whole, but occupying the moment with my face open to the sky. Just for a few swift minutes, just myself in nature, with not another soul around. The next five minutes were mine.

I walked toward the shoreline. Then I ran.

 
 
 

 

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