I built this sandcastle last summer with my kids.
Because I’m a geek, we took inordinate pride in building it, in making it smart and neat and in digging a nice deep moat all around it. Wanting it to look good and be structurally sound. But the first wave that came, washed our sandcastle away leaving nothing but sand and no sign we were ever there.
This week someone I know passed away. Someone I worked with, someone kind and helpful who smiled all day long and was nice to everyone. We weren’t close, but the news still left me numb, with a hollow feeling in my stomach. It made me think of that sandcastle, and of the beach that was left when the waves washed away. And it made me write this.
The fact that nothing lasts has always bothered me
When I was little I ran into my parents room – I was probably about 8 at the time. I was in floods of tears and they couldn’t console me. When they eventually found out why, it was because looking out at the garden I had realized that at some point, even if it was millions of years in the future, the world would end. The house we were in, the swing in the garden, my parents and I, we wouldn’t exist. And the bleakness of that thought, crashing into an 8-year old brain was… well you can imagine. I was pretty upset. 24 years later and I can’t deny I still hate endings and goodbyes. They don’t make me cry, but I don’t like them.
Some get solace in religion, others in a lack of it
Some people cope with finality because they know there’s an afterlife, and they’re 100% convinced about it. Others are happy to live in the moment because they know there is NO afterlife and they are 100% convinced about that. But what do you do if you just don’t know either way? Personally I don’t have a clue, and my supposed religion – Taoism – is incredibly vague and unhelpful on the subject. Which is fine, but leaves me with the same fundamental question:
If nothing lasts, then what’s the point?
My wife commented recently that it was a shame our 18 month old won’t remember the wonderful holiday we went on. It’s a valid question. She won’t remember any of the past year, or much of the next. What will she remember? Is it just me, or is it a common fear of all parents that if something happens to you when your kids are young they’d grow up and forget not just your holidays but… well, you? That the books you read them, and the times you held them, and the games you played and stories you told and the places you went will all fade into nothing and be wiped from existence? Maybe it’s me, but I find that a scary thought. The thought that makes me less scared though is this:
What matters is that you enjoyed building the sandcastle. Not how long it stays up.
The sandcastle we built isn’t there to be lived in. It’s not made of stone, and it’s not a real castle. In the same way, you won’t last forever and neither will anything else. What matters is that you had fun building the castle. And even if something does happen to me, and my kids don’t remember the building of the sandcastle or the laughter, the smiles, the baby eating sand when told not to, the feeling of the waves running over their toes or me carrying them on my shoulders back up from the beach. Even if they don’t remember those things I know that those things – that laughter, those feelings – have become an irreversible part of their being. Like threads running through a loom into tapestry they may not be visible individually, but they now make up part of a person. And in some way will influence how they treat their own children, and those around them. How they see the world and how they see themselves.
We all create threads in the people around us, and that’s something meaningful
Human beings may be a short blip in the scale of infinity, our lives on their own may be nothing – tiny stones thrown into a rapidly running stream on its way to the sea. But the ripples those stones create are… no hold on, wait. It was threads in a tapestry wasn’t it… Dammit, mixed metaphors. I’m clearly getting in way over my metaphysical head here. Let’s just leave it at this:
The things you do, even when it’s least apparent, mean something.
The fact you exist, the fact you’re alive, means something.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I find that reassuring. So I wanted to write it.
Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
– Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching V2