(Originally published June 17, 2009)
You can’t beat a stroll along the surf in the evening. It is the perfect desert for a day that has offered plenty of feasts for both the eyes and the spirit.
Using the setting sun as my compass, I skirt the incoming tide and pause every few steps to snatch a stray shell before the retreating waves can steal it away. My toes dig into the wet sand as the pipers and gulls flutter around me, searching for one last snack before finally calling their day done.
This will be my last evening at the beach. Sometime early Thursday morning we will brush the sand from our clothes, pack our suitcases, and head west for home. (A secret, though, between you and me: I’m not shaking my sand off. I want to walk around with it on me a little while longer.) So tonight I am enjoying one last walk to take it all in.
And I’m not the only one. A few yards in front of me is a young surfer just out of the water and taking the long way home.
He places his board down just beyond the surf and bends as if tying an imaginary shoe. He slowly traces something into the wet sand with a finger and, still stooping, considers the marks. A slow and solemn nod displays his approval, then he rises and walks on.
So do I, pausing after a few steps to pick up a clam shell for my daughter. I look back up to see the surfer now heading for dry sand and the boardwalk, where a battered red bicycle waits to take him home. Curious, I walk ahead to the spot where he had bent down and find these four words:
ALL WILL WASH AWAY.
I look over and see him climb onto the bike and tuck his surfboard under his right arm. There he sits, staring out at the beach.
And here I stand, staring down at these profound words.
You don’t generally expect such deep thinking from hip surfer dudes, just as you don’t generally expect it from redneck hicks. In that, we are kindred spirits. And in more, too.
Because these past few days have brought much the same sentiment from me. I’ve been coming here since I was a child, and that sense of permanence has always been a source of comfort. The ocean never changes. It is immense and beautiful and old and will always be such. Yet while it is fixed, I am not. I may visit this same place every summer, but I always bring along a different me.
The me this year is much different than the person who last gazed upon these waters, though exactly how different I cannot say. Rather than time dulling the edges of our lives, I think it sharpens them. It makes clearer the things that matter and the things that do not. Perhaps it is because my visit this year falls just a few weeks shy of my birthday that my thoughts have been centered more upon the future than the present. Thoughts that are best summed in the four words below me.
ALL WILL WASH AWAY.
There are times when life becomes simply unbearable for me, when the tides crash in much more than ease out and the treasures life gives me are snatched away and demanded back. And I’m sure I’m not alone. I have a feeling the young man on the red bike has recently suffered through something like that. I have a feeling you have suffered through that as well. Because we all have things in our lives that scare us and leave us to quake at the possibility that we are to merely borrow them for a time instead of holding them forever.
We all fear that all we love will be consumed by the enormity of this world and erased forever.
Yet still we arrive daily in our lives to write upon the shore, to cast our hearts and our hopes into the ebb and flow of our days in faith that we just may happen upon something that neither time nor tides can erase.
That is our quest in life. To find the eternal. To find that which cannot be washed away.