The Empty Blue Chair
Preface: This story was written a few months ago during my stay in Cannes, located on the French Riviera. It appears in print here for the first time. This story recounts one of my most touching memories of 2012.
This is the story of an empty blue chair.
More precisely, it’s the story of a person who once occupied it — someone’s name I do not know.
It’s the story of a loyal companion who sat beside the blue chair, so faithfully — at the same time and place, each and every day.
This is the story of love and loss, of life and death, and ultimately of rebirth and renewal.
This is a personal story, a search for that special someone who once occupied the blue chair — which is now empty.
* * *
This story begins not this year, but last.
October of 2011 marked my first visit ever to the wondrous French Riviera and the famous La Croisette, which is the grand promenade of luxury hotels, fancy restaurants, and high-end retail boutiques stretching along the Mediterranean.
But this isn’t a tale of flaunted wealth, or celebrities, or material possessions. This is a story of something far more precious. Far more rare. Far more fleeting to those who lack it.
It’s my remembrance of an old woman and her little dog that remains with me. That’s right — a woman and a dog. Allow me to describe this remarkable vision and profound impression to you. I beg you to indulge me. Let us picture that old woman and her little dog together, shall we? Let’s begin.
What a magnificent women she was. Divine. She was probably in her late 70′s Or even 80′s, perhaps. She moved slowly, her walk aided by a cane. Steps that had once been effortless years ago were now laborious. Even painful. But still, she hobbled proudly to the promenade every day — regularly at noon.
The old woman’s pace was slow. But it was deliberate. Her stride was as consistent as the days were bright and skies were blue. If the sun shined, as it did almost every day in southern France, the old woman was sure to be seen strolling along the sea.
The old woman never walked alone. She always had a companion. A companion like no other.
Next to the woman was her little dog. The small animal was also an impressionable sight to behold. He too was a senior, and struggled to walk alongside the woman who was bigger but having just as much difficulty with a task most of us take from granted. The dog’s pace was more of a limp — steps shadowed by paws. Stride for stride they moved along on the same path.
The old woman and her little dog knew their way. It was the same way they had gone many days, and many years past. They walked along the sea wall that was made of stone. And once they finally came upon the familiar blue chair, they sat down together and gazed out towards the sea, which was equally a shade of brilliant blue. We have all looked upon the waters. But their view was the most magnificent, I think. For it had the perspective of unbreakable companionship, a vision of precious bondage and comfort.
Seeing the faithful pair was inexplicably comforting to me, even though I knew nothing about them. Each day as I ran in the warm sunshine, I longed for comforting signs of the old woman and her little dog. Ultimately, the vision of the dedicated pair sitting together became increasingly more profound with every run and each passing day. I found myself becoming emotionally connected to the stark simplicity of that love. With each day’s first steps, I anticipated the moment of payoff when I’d first come to that blue chair to catch a glimpse of those I did not know, but who provided me with reassurance.
Towards the end of that first visit a year ago in 2011, on the final day I saw the old woman and her little dog standing together along the vast seawall. Their presence was statuesque. Without knowing so, they had become iconic figurines of endurance, lighthouses of hope that stood the test of time. In those final fleeting moments when I’d last seem them perhaps, I was struck by how beautiful they both were, together. It was their incredible devotion to each other that was an object of marvel. Their special bond made them a compelling sight. They were so ordinary in so many ways, yet they were also so remarkably inspiring, even for a stranger who lived ten thousand miles away.
Surely, their daily ritual was a struggle. For both of them. They had passed the years and grown old together, now nearing the end of a journey. Both knew this was so. Bu they were not sad. Not at all. For they still had a never-ending devotion to each other, and the comfort of knowing that they’d remain inseparable — in body and spirit.
* * *
When I returned against to Cannes in late September 2012, I wondered if the old woman and her dog would still be around. Cannes is not that big a city and they would be easy to spot.
Would they be seen walking again along the promenade? Would they be sitting together in the same blue chair? Would they be looking out into the vast blue Mediterranean?
I laced up my shoes a little faster that first morning. I had a run to make. And it was to be a run I would make with extraordinary anticipation.
Eleven months to the day of my previous visit, just as before, I made my same run at noon, along the identical path that took me to the old woman and her little dog.
I plodded along. I raced faster. I approached my destination. Finally, I arrived at the blue chair. It resembled the one below:
The chair was empty.
There was no old woman. No little dog. There was no hint of the sight I remembered from before.
Alas, the old woman and her dog were nowhere to be seen.
I wanted to remain optimistic. Not seeing them didn’t mean they were gone, I thought. Perhaps she had found another blue chair with a better view. Perhaps she had taken a different route on this day. Perhaps she wished to enjoy the sea from another vantage point.
Yes, this had to be the explanation.
But as I ran on the second day and then the third, I began to realize this was not the case. And so, I began to deviate my daily run to look for the old woman and her little dog in other places.
All I came upon were more blue chairs. And they were all empty.
A week passed.
Maybe the old woman and her little dog weren’t feeling well. Maybe they decided to remain inside. Maybe this was a bad time to go out. Indeed, many people stayed indoors on this day. The normally perfect fall weather had become cold and cloudy. Today, there were many blue chairs.
They were all empty.
A few more days more, I ran a different route and then a different route on the next. Instead of running right along the sea wall, I darted through the city parks of Cannes. Yes, I thought. A city park. That seems like such a perfect place for an old woman and her little dog.
But the parks were empty, too.
Wherever I ran, whichever path I took, whenever I passed — all I saw around me was emptiness.
Every empty chair was a void, a painful reminder of a rightful place where the old woman and her little dog belonged. They were supposed to be there. They were supposed to be together. It was supposed to be just like I remembered it from last year.
Things aren’t supposed to change. Especially not the things we love and enjoy the most. Those things are supposed to last. We want them to last forever.
But they don’t.
The garden paths where the old woman and her little dog had once walked with such joy and determination were now empty. Their silhouette was replaced with sadness.
Those daily runs became less enjoyable as I came to grasp what seemed an inevitable conclusion. The runs happened without purpose. Pain without a payoff. With each step, and each mile, and each day I became more heartbroken of remembrances past. The old woman and her little dog were not to be found.
I lost hope. Everything around me seemed so empty.
On my final day, I passed by the same sea wall and ran through the parks.
I began to look around. This time, I began to take in vision of what had become new day.
Alas, so many other people were out and about on this day. They too were strolling along the sea wall. They were visiting parks. Many of them had dogs walking.
I realized these were similar chapters in the lives of other people. They were special moments of togetherness. There were people with names I didn’t know, speaking a language I didn’t understand, but which shared an undying devotion just the same as those I remembered from the previous year.
And so I captured those moments of togetherness with the following photos:
Signs of love and loyalty were everywhere around me.
Yes, the old woman and her little dog were likely gone. But many others who walked in those same footsteps remained just as devoted and had just as much love to share and to give.
Love knows no bounds. Love needs no language. Love is universal.
Some day I hope to return to Cannes again.
When I arrive, I shall walk to the promenade. Once there, I will look for the blue chair.
I hope someone will be sitting there. I hope it will be someone happy. Someone with a dog.