These words on love read as if they were written by a wise old sage, but they come from a young man of only 25.
Do you build sandcastles? Do you get so excited to create something, feel so much exhilaration stemming from an idea, a dreamthat you begin to build a structure, a relationship with an imperfect foundationand false expectations? No matter how sun-baked or thirsty you might be, nothing else on the beach matters…until the tide comes in.
I never walk along the beach with the sole intention of building an elaborate sandcastle; they tend to sort of just happen. My last sandcastle was by far my most intricate to date, yet was also the most challenging to witness wash away. I had just returned from a lengthy adventure on the other side of the world, a six-month journey that was everything I ever wanted. I came home to the beach, but it didn’t feel the same. Can we call a place “home” when it isn’t familiar anymore? Is it still home if you feel lonely?
During my barefoot wandering that day, a chance encounter changed everything. Just as I was about to turn around and find another beach, I ran into an old flame and an even older friend, a beautiful woman I used to walk along the shore with a long time ago. She was as stunning as I remembered and still managed to see right through my armor. She seemed to carry more on her shoulders than before, but I still felt the same dazzling heart beating beneath her chest. With that recognizable light behind her eyes, she asked me if I wanted to build a sandcastle with her. As the sea danced around our toes, the beach finally began to feel familiar again and the loneliness dissipated…why turn back now? Nostalgia can be a powerful drug.
She put her hand in mind and with the same magic of our seemingly lost youth, we gathered wet sand from the edge of the water and carried it up the shore. She told me not worry, she would provide the tools: the purple plastic bucket, the matching mini-shovel and trowel. Under an umbrella of chemistry to shield us from the sun, we began to build together. We belly-laughed; we danced and celebrated as a pair, an ostensibly unstoppable force, each bringing our own unique vision to the proceedings. She would take a bucket of sand and make an incredible shape, which I would add to…I would build a new extension to castle and she would enhance it. We were dreaming and creating together, hands and souls intertwined as individual ideas transformed into joint expressions. A new sense of belonging washed over me: not only was this the most gorgeous sandcastle I’ve ever built, but the building process was far more rewarding because I was sharing it with someone.
But then, challenges arose. For each hour that passed, the castle became even bigger and subsequently harder to manage. The wet, sturdy sand began to dry and for every new tower added to the castle walls, two would fall down. The laughter came every now and then, but it wasn’t flowing as before…more time was spent in silence, building separately. A strong breeze began to wear down the highest pillar of our castle as the sea started to creep up the shore. I felt the frigid water swallow my feet and fill the protective hole we had dug in front of our creation. The tide was approaching.
We both frantically began to dig the water out and add more sand to the outside of the structure, but it didn’t help. We started to argue and disagree about what we could do to save our castle from the sea. As we stood in combat, a wave breached the walls and it all came crumbling down…rage, blame, resentment and devastation filled the beach. I’m not sure what hurt more: watching the sea reclaim the sand we had borrowed, or the realization that the foundation for our castle was weak and flawed. We had failed. Unable to face our fallen dreams, we turned our backs on each other and walked in opposite directions. I never turned around to look over my shoulder.
Five months later, I’m still wandering along the same beach, but I haven’t seen her. I have come to terms with how the castle was lost but I feel doubt everyday regarding how it was built. Was I a fool for not seeing the flaws earlier? Was I a coward for walking away? Will I ever be able to feel that sense of belonging, that sweet feeling of creating with someone again? Was that sandcastle my best chance to have the connection and copilot in life I desire?
I would be lying if I said I had the answers to these questions. But one thing has become abundantly clear as I watch the never-ending waves crash on the shore: we must embrace that inner castle builder, the careless dreamer, the one who cannot engage in connection without complete vulnerability and exposure of the heart. I’m also realizing that gratitude can play a large role in helping us move forward. I am grateful for all of the parts of the sandcastle her and I built together: the sacred connection, the discussion of favorite baby names, the plans for our Disney wedding, the weekends spent touring model homes. I’m also grateful for all the structures that fell down: the unhealthy cycle of drama and neediness, the passionate arguments, the deceiving mask of false intimacy. Now I know what I don’t want to experience in relationship and I get to take that knowledge with me.
Sandcastles are fragile creations that eventually wash away and leave us questioning why we build something so delicate in the first place. Why build them when the tide will come? Why dream if we’ll eventually be let down? I guess I’d rather feel the joy of building a sandcastle before it gets swept way than not build anything at all. To create what we want in life, we have to risk. To dream is to risk and often, that risk leads to hurt.
I think we build certain sandcastles for certain stages in our life, with the unconscious intention that they show us the beautiful reward that lies on the other side of risk: love. Most of our castles fade away with the tide, with some hurting more than others. Eventually, however, we’ll create one with such a strong foundation, at the right place on the beach, with the right person, that all of the previous sandcastles will pale in comparison. Until that happens, we must continue to dream, we must continue to build, watch our creations be engulfed by the sea and build again. We’ll survive; it’s what we do.
Keep walking towards the sea with a bucket in hand.
Originally published on Wandering Rhythm.