It was so windy that Mary Poppins would have made it into the sky without her umbrella. The wind was from the northwest, and its cold fingers slid down the back of my windbreaker as I walked the beach. I shivered both from the cold and from a vague sense of loss—summer had gone and with it the warmth and bustle of carefree holiday. Also, our once grand sweep of sandy beach was eroding, with each storm and hurricane taking a swipe from the retreating beachfront. Now, there was very little left. Storm surges and wind had beaten down the hopeful dunes that were just recovering from their last battering, sea birds huddled like refugees on what remained of dry land, and even the pelicans, flying low over the incoming tide, looked depressed.
I was so intent on gloomy thoughts that I almost stepped on a sandcastle. Not just any castle, mind—this one was built like an Aztec temple, with carefully crafted steps etched along sloping sides and with seashells decorating the top of the pyramid.
Three teenagers in shorts and windbreakers were putting their finishing touches to their masterpiece. They grinned self consciously when I complimented them. “But why build it so close to the tide line?” I asked. “The tide is coming in—it will destroy this wonderful thing.”
The young people shrugged, and one of them said, “It’s okay. If it comes down, we’ll build something else tomorrow.”
They went back to work and I walked on admiring the optimism of youth. Not that they were the only ones to build sandcastles, for I have done my share. So have we all. We paint or sculpt or write and pour our hearts into the work even though sometimes no one else seems to share our vision. Someday, we think, and we hope. Always, we hope.
But sometimes hope is hard to find—and here came those gloomy thoughts again. When hurricanes destroy the work of a lifetime, when death steals a beloved life, when sickness or misfortune or accident scars our spirit or when that manuscript comes back for the tenth time— what then?
In the cold darkness
Hard to light the candles
With frozen fingers.
The spirit of melancholy lingered with me throughout the day and followed me into the next morning when I once again walked the beach. The wind had abated and the sky was an innocent blue. Silver fish were jumping, blissfully, unaware of hungry pelicans swarming above. Intent on watching them, I once more nearly stumbled on…
The sandcastle? That sandcastle? But yes, there it stood at the tide line. Part of its outer wall was missing, and incoming waves had blurred its steps, but the pyramid was solid, and shells still proudly adorned its crown.
Keep it in perspective, I warned myself. Cool it. It’s just a sandcastle, not some celestial omen! But I remembered the youngsters who had shrugged away my dour predictions and gone ahead with their project, and knew that of course they had been right.
Away with gloomy thoughts! I thought. Loss and disappointment, great or small, touches every life, but we continue to thumb our noses at fate and persevere. Summer will come again with warm wind and a sun-dazzled beach. And in the meantime I have sand castles to build.
Cold, mighty ocean,
Here is one small sand castle
You could not destroy!