I am at the beach, everyday, making castles. I don’t make mudpies anymore, I make sandcastles! I left the mudpies back at home, where they belong. They were so dirty anyway, and even though they are not really made to be eaten, I tried one once when my imagination got the better of me. Before I knew it, it was in my mouth and I had tasted and even swallowed some! You can imagine how disgusting it was, I thought so too. From that point on the reality of what I was making and the inadequacies of the material that I was working with were discontenting, and I went off in search of a better material.
I began the long journey eastward to the sea collecting various materials along the way with which to work. At first these new materials worked very well for my creations and they occupied my time quite nicely; but they too ultimately failed to pass the tests that the reality of life forced upon them. I traveled on in this manner for many years, all the while trying different methods and mediums to create what I hoped would be work of lasting value. But none held my interest for long; until at the end of my journey I discovered my current medium, the wonderful material called Sand!
Sand is a marvelous material for creating. It holds its shape and it stands tall in the noonday sun. It of course tastes even worse than the mud did (Yes, I tried it as well!) but that is okay because I am no longer interested in making pies; I am now building castles. I am designing palaces with great towers and walls, elaborate parapets, and draw bridges. I am making castles with mysterious moats below and forming windows and balconies that recede and protrude at all angles from their walls above. With Sand as my medium, I have found that I am architect, sculptor- I am Creator when my hands are buried deep within it.
Looking back, I can see the progression of my travel toward the beach. I see the alleys where I scraped in the gutter for mud with which to make my pies. I can see the sidewalks where I found bits of other people’s trash and used it to fashion things that I found strangely beautiful. And I see the stretches of countryside where I discovered natural materials such as wood and clay. Looking back I am amazed at the intensity that I pored into those materials. I was struck more than a few times by their uniqueness and the excellent way in which they accomplished for me what I desired. But I can also see that my desires often changed. I grew tired of the mudpies and my other creations. I regularly became discontent and restless. And in my restlessness I abandoned what I deemed to be inferior in order to search for the superior, the holy grail of materials, the ultimate substance for what I thought must be my future master work..
I traveled all the way to the edge of the land until I came to the sea, the wonderful, marvelous sea. At night, from my bed, I can hear it rolling in, constantly pounding the shore, always advancing and never yielding. In the mornings I watch it brighten as the sun rises from her caverns beyond the sea. The sun comes each day without fail; she too is relentless, never yielding an inch to the encroaching darkness and solidity of night. She makes her ascent each morning, burning her way through the shadows to fill the world with her robe of light; her train of reds and oranges and yellows spreading across the heavens. She shines upon the sea that stands before me and guards the entrance to its mysteries. With the sea as a barrier refusing to allow me to pass further, my road seems to end here. This is as far as I can go, and I am left with only the materials that are supplied in this place with which to continue my work.
Sand, sun, wind, and water are now my medium. With these four I build, day after day, what I must admit, are truly amazing works of art. But astonishingly, even here I am finding myself increasingly restless and discontent with both the material and my work. I tell myself to be thankful and I look back often to remind myself that it once was a lot worse. Mudpies! I shudder at the memory! I tell myself that I now have Sand in my grasp! I have the ultimate in materials, I have the best of the best- and there is none other to be had after this. But still, I am disheartened. For even with all of its advantages over the other materials, sand too has its limitations. Even though I can now design marvels of strength and surpassing beauty there are still drawbacks to this substance- it is still not the most perfect tool with which to exercise my creativity.
You did know that sand dissolves in water did you not? It does! No matter how well you design your structure, or how well you shore up its walls, the sea, which sits just off the beach, destroys my work nightly. And let me tell you, that is frustrating! I have made some wonderful sandcastles in my time here at the beach, but there has yet to be a single one that has survived the coming of the night. I think that at first I wasn’t concerned with this because my energy was so high that I was excited just to be working. I could have cared less if my work stood against the sea. In fact if it had stood I probably would have destroyed it myself so that I could enjoy the building of another one. But lately I am getting tired; I put a lot of effort into one of my sandcastles. You might not realize it but it takes a lot of careful planning and hard labor to execute structures of the magnitude that I have dreamed of executing. And what becomes of them? Absolutely nothing. And it is not even me who is destroying them, which would be different. No! I do my work faithfully and then for no apparent reason and completely without my approval or even notification- poof! They are gone the very next day! I ask you, what is the point of that?
I stayed awake one night just to watch it happen. It is an incredibly tedious process. It seems that the sea takes its commands from the moon. When the moon dictates, the sea begins its advance upon the beach. Slowly, and I mean slowly, it advances on the shore. With each successive wave it remains a fraction of a second longer than before, stroking the beach and covering it with its wetness. I tried to watch it take my castle, but I wearily passed into slumber when it was only halfway up the beach, and still many feet away from my latest work.
I dreamt that night of a man playing in the sand on a beach very similar to my own. I thought it funny that he played- I harrumphed to myself that sandcastles are work for men and as such to be taken seriously! And yet here was this dream man playing! He was smiling as he worked and singing a very clever little song. As he sang, his castle grew and grew. It was unlike any I had ever designed or even imagined. It had buttresses that supported nothing but air; they flew out into space simply for the joy of their short flight. He had placed walls around empty spaces and neglected the roofs, simply to let in the glorious rays of the indomitable sun. And he spent considerable time tracing designs onto every available surface- designs that spoke of joy and peace and love and eternity. My harrumphing began to taste sour in my mouth as I watched this man effortlessly and joyously build his castles.
“They will fall you know,” I called to him. But of course, as always happens in dreams, my throat tightened around my dream words and they went forth into it only as a whisper on the wind.
As I was swallowing the bile that my arrogance had formed in my mouth, the sun, that golden globe of furious fire, burst out from behind a cloud and kindled a flame around the edges of this man’s beautiful work. “Watch out,” I cried, again in nothing more than a whisper. But the man only jumped back and clapped his hands in glee. He sang all the louder his clever song and jumped around the burning castle like a school boy reciting his rhymes. I watched the fire from the sun consume his elegant creation and lamented as it burned it to black and erased the fine tracery of its walls. The cloud regained its place over the sun, quenching the fire for the moment, and the man fell to his knees before the embers. He is sad, I thought; he is despairing of the joy he had in his work. But no! The man was kneeling, not in dejection, but in reverence! He is praying? For what is he praying, I asked myself? For a burned out cinder that would have slid into the sea anyway?
Again I felt my haughtiness turn sour in my mouth as I watched this funny little child of a man incomprehensibly strike the ruin with his tiny little fist. At the first blow, the black, crusty deposit on the castle cracked and then splintered into a shower of tiny fragments. They fell off the castle like scales, revealing a remarkable treasure that had formed beneath. The castle was not destroyed! It had been transformed in the heat of the fire. It was not destroyed, it was made new! Standing before me now, and before my small dream man was a castle of crystal, catching and reflecting the multitudinous rays of the sun onto the man, the beach, and the heavens. I watched the castle that was once sand shine solid. I watched the work that was destroyed be made to live forever. And I saw that the sand was not itself the end of this journey or this work.
I woke from the dream to the sun warming my feet and shining its smile upon my face. I saw my beach of sand devoid of my latest work and I smiled. I felt a song in my heart, but I did not know the words. I began to hum as I pushed a pile of sand with my foot and thought of the mountains and the rising of the Sun.