Last week, my family and I made our annual pilgrimage to the ocean to visit with family and reconnect with all that is good and true and beautiful about the beaches like the ones I visited as a child. My children have begun to appreciate the beauty of the ocean and the creative canvas that is the sand on the beach. Most mornings of our trip, we hauled our buckets, shovels, rakes and other tools and toys from the house to the beach to play and dig and make and tinker around.
My children being children, we didn’t make the greatest castles. Their creations were often abandoned mid-creation as they noticed a new tide pool or an enticing wave that drew them away from the sand. But our little bits of towers and tunnels were strewn about the beach every day, awaiting either a little more attention or the daily scrubbing from the tide as it rolled in. One great thing about a beach is that it’s a fresh canvas every day.
One afternoon, my wife and I were sitting by the ocean, making plans and dreaming dreams and having all the conversations you can have when freed from the daily grind of work/home stress. Mostly, we were just being in the moment of sitting together in the presence of something delightful, watching waves and smelling salt air. As we talked, I was people watching, one of my favorite past times, and I was paying particular attention to how walkers, runners, and the motley crew of assorted beachcombers were navigating the sand creations strewn around the shore – both “ours” – the ones my children and nephews made, and also the ones made by other folks who shared the beach with us that day.
The tide was coming in, and it was clear that the time for the castles was short. They’d be gone within an hour or two. But most folks didn’t think about that. They worked their way around the castles and trenches, giving them as wide a berth as they could, taking care not to trod upon the things that other people made. I remember when I was a child on the beaches of North Carolina, and coming across others’ castles when we made it to the ocean. Sometimes, we’d find an exceptional one, and look for ways to make it better, or we’d finish up a section that clearly was incomplete, decorating towers and moats with bits of shell and driftwood washed up the previous day. I spent an especially memorable day helping a kid I’d never met before – and haven’t seen since – digging out an elaborate underground fort, complete with plywood walls and sand steps down while my father and his father looked on and surf fished closer to the water.
It’s always been my thing to make better the stuff I see, or to admire the beauty that others had left behind as their day took them away from their labors of love1.
But back to this particular day.
There was a group of folks walking down the shore who came across a small series of towers my nephews has made that day, already beginning to be kissed by the approaching tide. What others had avoided, these folks stomped on, knocking each one down as they passed. On their walk back from where they started, they again stomped across the towers, reducing each one to a damp lump of sand.
And I wondered why anyone would do that.
I’m sure they didn’t think about it as they passed, about the time and attention a five year old gave to making sure the lines and angles and compactness of the sand was just right, about the care an eight year old gave to ensuring the towers all matched once finished, about the tide licking its way across the castles. These castles were doomed, certainly, and abandoned by the children, but did they have to end like that?
I’m sure those folks didn’t think about what they were doing while they did it. They were in the moment and enjoying their friends. And they didn’t do anything wrong, really. I just thought it was odd.
And I wonder as I write what it is that pushes some of us to admire and add to the beauty that we find, and what pushes others of us to stomp on it. In the public spaces we all share, how do we ensure that we’re inviting appreciation and contribution, making sure the canvas is refreshed and available, while keeping the stomping to a minimum.
My moment on the beach was a good reminder to me of the types of spaces I want to promote and build and perpetuate. And maybe a reminder about the type of guy I want to be when I’m walking through a gallery of other people’s stuff, wherever I might happen to come across it.
Certainly, the castles and creations that many of us will make aren’t always very good. But I hope you’re helping to make them better, and not stomping on the ones you come across. And I hope, too, that you’re working to build spaces where we can encourage things getting made and made better, rather than just stomped down as they pop up.
- At least, I try to make that my thing. But I fall short. Lots. We all do. [↩]