A memorial service for the artist Suzanne Longo is tomorrow morning at ten, at the Beth Israel Synagogue. We’ll be saying goodbye, but all I keep thinking about is the last time we said hello.
I remember that sunny morning because she made me laugh. Gary and I were on our walk, down by the Waterfront Park playground, when she popped out of nowhere. Actually, she popped up from under the bridge to Lady’s Island – a shortcut she cheerily reversed to show the two of us how you can duck under the line of cars waiting for the swing span to close and practically tiptoe over the edge of the Beaufort River.
Normally an artist in her early sixties popping up from under a bridge might startle me, but this was Suzanne Longo. Ever since I met her in the early 90s, she’s been popping up in unexpected places and ways.
I was a rookie reporter just arrived from the West Coast and she was a mysterious artist transplanted from New Orleans. So exotic that she named her gorgeous sons Moon and Star! The occasion was a kerfuffle over one of her sculptures – a bench that prominently featured the mounds of the female form – right across Carteret St. from a church! I don’t know which one of us thought the story was more ridiculous, or funny. Beaufort takes getting used to.
What will be even harder to get used to, is Beaufort without Suzanne.
I had to choose between two parties last night – a bachelorette/lingerie shower for a young woman I’m just beginning to know, and a night-under-South Carolina-Live Oaks pondering a revolution with dear and proven friends.
The feminist in me would have opted for the latter – sick as she is of corporate greed, insane politics and willful disregard for social welfare. The womenist in me jumped into a river and swam with a bride-to-be.
That’s not a typo – womenism is purposefully plural. It’s why I invented the word – to amuse and honor the woman who would adore it most: Byrne Miller. And besides, Womanism is already claimed by fiercely academic women in contemporary African-American theology.
I swam with a bride-to-be because Samantha is getting married and that is what women do. We are meant to be there for each other. We are the rivers that wind through life – tidal and moon-lifted. Sometimes placid and often dangerous. Not always flowing in just one direction.
Alone it is an imaginary solitude. Because even when we think we are the only swimmer in the water, we are not. Other women are all around us. Some, like Samantha’s beautiful and weary mother-in-law, Suzanne, are waiting for the tide to take them home. And still the river flows.
Other women are out in front, swimming against the tide. We cheer them on. Some are on the shores, testing the temperature. We say come on in. And when we’re really lucky, as I am and as Samantha will soon be, we find someone to swim beside. We tie our lives together like a raft and hoist a flag that all can see. Together we become a marker in the river of uncertainty, a Moon to reflect the light of love.
The revolution will have to wait until another night. The tide will turn. Waters will rise. And I will be there swimming in women.