Feed on

I watched them curiously, these people whose life had been irrevocably altered with the sweep of a wave. (427)

Morris’ “The Lifeguard” is a coming of age story that expresses how true character is developed through hands-on experience. This story also represents how quickly one’s life can be altered at any given moment. One must always see the beauty in what one has before it is gone.

The narrator, Josh Michaels, is a young man who spends his last summer before college as the head lifeguard at Pirate’s Point. He is arrogant; as he says, “She was warm and alive, and I knew I could have almost anything I wanted with her.” (428) He believes that he is admired by everyone on the beach and goes so far as to state that older men yearn for the days when they too looked as physically appealing as he does. Josh’s friend and former head lifeguard, Ric Spencer, says to him, “Man, you don’t know what it is. You don’t know what you’ve got…You’ve got all this. It’s yours.” (427) Josh is so self-centered that he does not understand what Ric means by his statement. He is not able to look around and see beauty in places that are not centered around himself.

Josh seems to have it all: the body, the girls, the friends, and the perfect job. However, when he is faced with a situation in which he is responsible for another’s life, he doesn’t know what to do. Ric’s daughter, Becky, chokes on a grape and would have died if it were not for Mrs. Lovenheim, a quiet and ordinary woman, who performs the Heimlich maneuver on Becky. “Ric stood shaking, his life altered.” (430) Ric’s life has changed in a single moment due to his lack of attention towards his daughter. The intense situation leaves Josh restless and unable to sleep. On the night of the incident, he travels to Mrs. Lovenheim’s house to thank her for her courageous act. As he speaks to her, he begins to weep and realizes that, for once, he does not have control over his composure. Mrs. Lovenheim consoles him for a moment, then, just as quickly, she leaves him alone on her front porch. She does not feed his ego; she only shows him comfort. In that moment, Josh’s life is “altered with the sweep of a wave.” (427) Josh now understands what it feels like to not be the center of attention, and realizes that there are bigger matters in the world than his need to feel wanted. In the last sentence of the story, the narrator says, “I’ve never seen the water or umbrellas of summer in the same way again.” (431) This sentence expresses how one’s outlook on life can change dramatically once one has been put through an extraordinary circumstance.

I find Mrs. Lovenheim’s name as a type of allegory. After she saves Becky, Mrs. Lovenheim’s purpose in the story is to console and comfort Josh. In the German language, heim is a word for “home,” and when Mrs. Lovenheim consoles Josh at the end of the story, he wishes that she would never let him go. To me, Mrs. Lovenheim’s name sounds very similar to love’s home.

Leave a Reply