On Bearskin Neck in Rockport, Massachusetts is a shop called 8 Bells. The shop mixes a vintage charm with a beach feel and has everything from uniquely designed vintage door-knob bouquets to pictures in weathered frames. Old window panes stenciled with lacy white templates are beside vases and signs showing off the talent of an inspired artist. Despite the small area, 8 Bells is a shop you can stay in for hours just for inspiration.
On the front desk in a container are copies of a book called “Night Swimming” holding their own inspiration. Inspiration for making life happen when you believe you don’t have much to lose. The author of the book, Robin Schwartz, is also the owner of the shop and is as unconventional as her created character, Charlotte.
The first time we visited the shop, Robin looked at us as we left and said “You’re not going to buy anything?” She was incredulous and her incredulity was guilt-inducing. The next time we didn’t leave until I had picked up a copy of “Night Swimming”. Robin autographed the book for me that very minute. The autograph reads:
Dear Marilyn, Thank you for coming back. I think you will enjoy Blossoms blooming. And as she swims, may you get lost in laps of laughter and reflection. I hope you come into 8 Bells again and again and I hope Night Swimming rings your bell. xoxo Robin Schwartz
On this rainy weekend, as I read the book in two sittings while curled up on a couch, I did get lost in laughter and reflection. It is a delightful account of a woman living a boring, quiet, predictable life in a small town in New Hampshire. The protagonist Charlotte Clapp, who is eating her way into oblivion, gets bad news from her doctor. Actually terrible news. Her blood test results show that at 36 years old she has cancer and only a year to live.
Her response to this news is to promptly go into the small town bank where she has worked for 15 years and quit her job. Following this she robs the bank and cleverly disappears from town with two million dollars, reinventing herself along the way in her last year of life. What the reader knows that Charlotte doesn’t is that the physician got the blood test results mixed up with another woman by the same name from another town in New Hampshire. She’s not dying. But even as the FBI becomes involved in searching for her, she is busily oblivious on the opposite side of the country, spending the two million dollars and living out her final year of life so she has no regrets. The reader leaves behind any predisposed views on justice and punishment and prays that the FBI will come up empty-handed as they go alongside Charlotte rooting for her.
So why does the book resonate with me? For two reasons. One is that it makes me wonder what I would do if I was told this was my last year of life. It wasn’t a morbid thought so much as a healthy self-reflection. The other is recognizing that we all get to points where we need new beginnings. Charlotte, although her means were unconventional, actually went for this. Deciding that she had nothing to lose, she bought a luxury apartment in Hollywood and began discovering who she really was.
In Charlotte’s character is something that will resonate inside many women. That deep desire to develop our true potential and learn how to love in the process. So if you go into 8 Bells, make sure you tell Robin that you read about her book here!~