This weekend, our family enjoyed a visit to the beach with my parents. It was a short trip, but the weather was glorious, and we packed some of our favorite beach activities into the time that we had together.
We spent a good bit of the day on Saturday engaged in a big sandcastle project. My younger daughter, Kyra, got us started, and before long we were all engaged in some aspect of its construction. As we worked, it was evident that we were all cognizant that, sooner or later, the tide would rise and our work would be undone. Nonetheless, we undertook the project with great gusto. As we worked, I couldn't help but notice where each of us chose to apply our energies.
I observed as Kyra quickly focused on building the inner castle and surrounding it with a moat that would keep the water away. Later, she carved channels that would divert any water that entered back out again without damaging the castle. John built a solid wall in front of the inner moat – a barrier against the rising tide. I dug a lake in front of the wall. It would have to fill up before the water could reach the wall, and thus would delay the arrival of the waves. Behind the main castle and moat, my older daughter, Kristin, built a small island, also surrounded by a moat. After decorating it with multicolored shells and smooth stones that she had been collecting on the beach, she dubbed it "Sea Treasure Island". My parents took the sand that was displaced from the lake that I dug, and made fun sculptures to surround our creation – a sea turtle, a whelk, a starfish, and an alligator (complete with a new poem from Mom inscribed in the sand beside him.)
The slow, pleasant work and the steady sounds of wind and waves provided a perfect opportunity for my mind to wander. I considered the creative and transitory nature of our project. It is interesting, I think, that despite the impermanence of sandcastles, so many of us enjoy building them. Why is that? Why do we invest so much time and energy into creations that the tide will soon wash away?
Sandcastles seem to be interesting metaphors for the way we relate to our lives and our health. As surely as the tides rise and fall, we know that we won't last forever, but most of us cling to life for as long as we can. Yet long lives aren't our only goal. More than that, we hope to live "well" – with enough vision and energy to make contributions that will fulfill and outlast us. Even though we know that we will all "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune", we work to extend our wellness -- protecting ourselves from risk and increasing our strength and resilience. We try to build lives that are authentic and vital, remembering to include those things that bring us joy, fun, beauty, and meaning.
As you care for yourself, where do you put your energies? Do you try to minimize risks – putting distance between yourself and the likelihood of unwanted outcomes? Do you work on increasing your strength and resilience – increasing your chances of withstanding illness when it occurs? Do you invest in your deepest values – your spirituality, your relationships, your vocation, or your creativity? Hopefully, you have found that all of these activities have a place in your well-lived life.
We left our sandcastle on the beach yesterday before high tide arrived and did not expect to see it again. Early this morning, John and I took a walk at sunrise and were amazed to see it still standing. Although the tide had risen past our creation, the features that we included had successfully diverted the water around it. For the moment, we had cheated the sea and our castle had been spared. The alligator continued to grin and the decorations on Sea Treasure Island still sparkled at passersby. We smiled and walked on.