Notes From The Coast

The beach does funny things to the brain

The beautiful impermanence of everything

Yesterday, on a foggy morning at the beach, 7-year-old Charlotte and I decided to build a sand castle. She instructed me that we had to go down to the wetter sand. We had beach buckets and shovels for the task. While we filled out buckets and built our castle, Charlotte was humming and singing.

When it was done, we assessed our work and we were proud of little lopsided castle with a moat.

I said, “It’s a good castle.”

“Yep!” And then Charlotte said, “I want to destroy it.”

“Whoa. Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I just do.”

“Oh…okay.” I watched her trounce and stomp all over our castle and then she ran in a huge circle, chased a couple seagulls, and came back and sat down, out of breath with a wide open smile.

“Let’s build another one!”

I was puzzled. I had flashbacks of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke when the warden forced him to dig a hole, and then immediately fill it back up, over and over again. The pointlessness of this task nearly broke Cool Hand Luke. I could relate. Except that I wasn’t in a Florida prison camp.

I asked, “Why build it if we just destroy it?”

“It’s fun,” she said.

It took me a moment, as I stared at the detritus of our freshly made sand castle, to realize the true Zen mastery of her actions.

I’m used to producing things, making thing, creating things. When I write copy, I then seek approval from other people.  If they like it, it’s a high. If they don’t, I feel dejected.

But not Charlotte. She didn’t need anyone’s approval. She simply built the castle because it was a good way to spend time. As I sat filling up plastic buckets with more sand, I tried to work out why this was so unsettling.

Perhaps it was because this was a reminder of the impermanence of everything. If the sand castle was left intact (like houses or property or legacies or first novels) then it’s a thumbprint, proof that we were here and did something that left a mark.  Very adult thinking.

You know what kids think? “The sand feels good on my hands.” “Look at the dolphins!” “I love that Carrie is spending time with me.” “Let’s sing a song!”

Here she was enjoying life. And here I was trying to understand it.

Adults tend to accrue things. Whether it’s houses or bowling trophies or crocodile skin purses or meaningless awards. All visible measures of success. But what are the visible measures of happiness?

I know it when I see it.

And I’m witnessing one right now, as she tucks her hair behind her ear and gets back to work on a new moat. Charlotte derives happiness from the action, not the accomplishment. She embraces the impermanence of the moment, gives it a big hug, and takes the memory with her instead.

And she’s on to something. Because even when the castle is gone, and we have dusted the sand off our clothes, I can still feel the cool fog on my cheeks, and hear the sound of the waves gently crumbling on the shore, I can still live in that moment that I shared with a little girl who knew how to have fun. And suddenly, the lightness of my soul comes fluttering back to rest on my mind like a butterfly, and for a moment, I am a 7-year-old again.

It’s time for popsicles.Image

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