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    « Be Yourself Anyway | Main | The Physical World: Reality or Illusion? »
    Tuesday
    Sep162008

    Sand Castles

    I have been thinking about the beach a lot lately.

    I like the beach -- it's not my favorite place the way it is for some people but it is right up there, close to the top of the list.

    I can remember the first time I saw the ocean. We had gone to the Jersey Shore -- I was a little boy, 3 or 4, and my family was vacationing in Wildwood, NJ. It was my first time. We stayed at a wonderful old hotel called The Elberon, which was located on Poplar Avenue in the center of town. I doubt that I knew or cared to know the name of the place at the time, things like that don't really matter to a boy that age, at least they didn't to me. I can't remember the hotel, not that time, anyway.

    But I remember the first time I saw the ocean like it was yesterday.

    Most of the beaches on the Jersey Shore, at least the ones I know, have boardwalks running parallel to the shore. For those of you who have never been, the boardwalk in Wildwood is a broad wooden street made of planks raised up on risers. You climb stairs to get to the boardwalk, or you walk underneath it to get to the beach beyond. One side of the boardwalk is the beach and the Atlantic Ocean. There are benches set up so you can sit and look out. The other side is wall-to-wall stores that sell beach stuff, and restaurants and candy shops, things like that.

    Under the boardwalk it is dark and cool and a little musty, a welcome contrast to summer heat. Its true what the song says -- when you come out from under the boardwalk the sand is so hot you wish your tired feet were fireproof.

    We had arrived that day a little after lunchtime, and the first thing we did once we checked into our hotel, the four of us -- myself and my brother Michael and my Mom and Dad, was to walk out in the bright wash of sunshine down Poplar Avenue to the boardwalk, climb the stairs and cross over to the railing to look out on the scene below.

    And there it was.

    Infinitely immense. Vast, so bright and blue and glitteringly beautiful and best of all it was just there. Looking at it was like being able to see the whole world all at once. I felt awash for a few seconds in the glorious immensity of it, so much so that it took my breath away -- it made me tremble and it made me ache.

    It was a very long time, many years in fact, before I ever saw the ocean that way again. What happened that first afternoon was that after a while the ocean was just there, framing the beach, and I before long I was taking it for granted like everyone else, happy it was there -- it was fun to swim in, but it was no longer the greatest wonder of the world, impossibly beautiful, perfect infinity, the way it was those those first few moments.

    But I haven't been really been thinking about the ocean lately -- its the beach I've been thinking about -- and more On the beach at Wildwood. That's me on the right with my older brother, Michael.specifically sand castles. How we start digging and then get caught up in the fun of making them and pretty soon get carried away. We get so caught up in the building that it becomes for us like the re-creation of the great pyramid of Giza, a wonder of the world, at least for a few hours. And if you do an impressive job folks strolling along the shore stop and admire before moving on. And you can bask in the glory of what you've been able to do.

    And then the long arc of the summer day curves, and we grow tired of our labors and snack and snooze under the umbrella and then perhaps before we pack up to leave we fill in the deeper holes so no one stumbles in the dark and breaks a leg and then we trudge back to wherever we're staying and shower and dress for dinner.

    And sometime between sunset that day and our return the next morning the tide has come and gone and washed the beach clean of castles and left the sand nice and smooth so when we return we can start fresh, with a whole new playing surface and if we want to we begin again, and this time, we think, we will do it even better.

    I didn't care that much about sand castles as a boy. I was much more interested in swimming in the ocean, being tossed around by mighty waves. It was much later, as a young father, with my girls, that I really got into in building castles for Barbies and Princess of Power dolls, but really for me and for Julia and for Amy. We had a lot of fun those days.

    You have to be a good sport when the sea washes away all of your creations, all of your hard work. It helps a lot to remember that tomorrow is another day, and that you will get a chance to do it all over again. Even at the end of the vacation week, you can remind yourself that there's always next summer.

    Life is a lot like that. It recycles relentlessly. It washes away all of our castles, but if you're lucky enough to believe in eternity, and you know in your heart that you are a big part of life and a big part of always, you'll never really have to leave this world -- you'll get to be here one way or another for all time and you know that you'll be a part of this wonderful dance of love and life over and over again, forever and ever, so you don't mind at all it being the end of a perfect summer or a perfect beach day.

    You just smile when the tide laps over the edge of your creation and gets ready to gobble it up. Because you know that you are more like the ocean than you are like a sand castle. You are the endless one, vast and forever, not the something that comes and goes. You had no beginning and you'll know no end, just endless beach days or whatever else your heart desires.

    Be forever, be happy.

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