In an attempt to regain my sanity—being a recent widow, business owner and mom—I decided to head to the Texas coast for a few days by myself and relax, as friends had suggested.
I had never been anywhere for more than a day alone, and I did not know how to be tranquil.
While I tried to simply enjoy the sunshine, sea air and rolling waves, not surprisingly, what started as absent-minded digging in the sand turned into a project—a sandcastle. There had to be a way to evaluate fun, right?
As a child I had never enjoyed playing in the dirt or sand, always afraid to get too dirty and disappoint my parents. Today, the sand felt good in my hands, and I didn’t even mind the grains under my fingernails, something that in the past would have taken me immediately to the water to clean up. My castle was simple and basic, and I laughed at it being a little lopsided and imperfect but sturdy. I gathered my things to go in for the night and looked back over my shoulder to appreciate what I had built.
The next morning, I awoke rejuvenated from the rest and the prospect of sunshine and water. Both of these elements had a centering and energizing effect and had since I was a child. Thinking of the night before, I couldn’t wait to get back to my sandcastle and add some details with the disposable coffee cups and spoons I found in my hotel room.
Excited, I packed some things and hurried to the seashore, avoiding the hotel pool and bar that were already bustling with people intent on entertaining themselves every second of their vacation.
For me this trip was about discovery and expansion more than diversion and distraction.
I felt the power of the water before I could see it and descended the stairs reverently to the path down to the shore. I went back to where I set up yesterday, close to the water, but far enough away that I was not overrun.
At first I questioned my memory, because where my small fort had been was nothing but smooth sand, not even a raised pile to let me know I had the right place. I scanned the beach, certain I must have made a mistake, but there was nothing to indicate that I had ever built anything here. The tide must have a further reach than I realized. At first I was annoyed, but I made a decision not to let this derail my day. With my new building tools in hand, I moved away from the water, so that the tide would not destroy my new work.
I took care in erecting my new fortress. I wanted it to be stronger than the other one, since I was still a little disappointed that time was wasted yesterday. Using a pail I found abandoned on the beach and the coffee cups and spoon from my room, I created what was a strong and attractive product. I talked to the people around me on the beach, many stopping to talk to me about what I was doing—they remembered the joy they felt when they built their own palaces in the sand. I even dug a moat and filled it with water before pronouncing the job finished for the day.
I visualized adding some flowers and maybe some other decorative touches to my “masterpiece” the next day. Exhausted but content, I retired for the night, surprised that I was enjoying and excelling at something so far out of my usual comfort zone and realm of experience.
I bounced out of bed close to daybreak, collecting new decorations, and all but sprinted to the beach. As I rounded the corner of the path, I saw my castle, or what was left of it.
There was a huge paw print right in the middle, and I looked up just in time to see a golden retriever chasing a Frisbee in the distance. In tears, I looked around the area, too frustrated to notice that various other people were building their own encampments around this little area. Noticing the state of my keep, one man had placed coolers and beach bags as a small barricade to keep the dogs out.
The next two days, I rebuilt my sandcastle, but there was always something destroying the hard work…children, wind, birds, drunks. I had come to resent all dogs and their toys. Even my tools had been borrowed, since everyone and their dog, pardon the pun, had decided to follow my lead and construct something in the sand.
Frustrated at the latest turn of events—children trying to transport my structure to theirs—anger and frustration overwhelmed me.
Why did I work so hard, only to have my work destroyed? Why did I have to start over with a new set of challenges every day? I stomped back and forth, cursing under my breath, railing against the universe, the elements, other people and their stupid animals.
I was so enraged that I almost ran into a small little girl, hair in pigtails, who had obviously been attracted to the spectacle I was creating. Her curiosity had overcome her fear. I had seen this child over the last few days, helping her dad build in the sand, laughing in joy when he dumped a pail of sand on her feet or tickled her. She ran, played, laughed and gave hugs to anyone who would receive one. If there was a personification of joy, this child was it.
She looked up at me with her big blue eyes and asked me why I was “throwing a fit.” That was like a glass of ice water to the face, and I calmed down immediately. I explained to her that I had spent the last several days working on something that was destroyed daily.
She paused and looked down at the latest pile of sand, smiled and then said, “But you build it prettier and more wonderfuller every day. Can’t you just do that today? Everyone else is having fun making castles, because they saw you doing it.”
Stunned and wondering if I should tell her that “wonderfuller” was not a word, I was struck by what I had been missing—the lesson that the Universe was all but slapping me with on this beautiful beach.
I thought each day I was starting over, but I used my knowledge from the day before to put together a stronger and more intricate structure. Each day, it did get better and more wonderfuller!
I looked at the expanse around me and all the people that were once in escape mode by the pool were now down here building and smiling and evolving. The atmosphere was jubilant and people were even combining tools and efforts to produce the most beautiful structures I had ever seen. Now I had a choice. Did I stop trying to create and improve my stronghold, or did I learn to relax into the joy and excitement of the process and enjoy the beauty of what I created, no matter how fragile it might be?
In that moment I knew that that these sand castles represented my journey toward enlightenment along with all the lessons and challenges that strengthened my integrity, will and resolve along the way.
I hugged that little girl, spun her around and did what I now do figuratively each day: pile up the fine sand with all the tools at my disposal and create the most glorious edifice that I can, knowing that I may have to regroup tomorrow. I take joy in the collaboration with my fellow builders in this time of ascension and know I am not alone in my struggle or my happiness.
Author: Lisa Foreman
Editor: Catherine Monkman