Sandcastles Never Last

Sorry about the radio silence lately, but I have been busy on a whirlwind visit to Canada. I’m back in the Land of the Rising Sun now for Japan 3.0, and will likely have a few Canada vs. Japan stories coming your way, but for now this article has been on my heart to write and share with you all. Enjoy!

Sandcastles Never Last. If I ever write a book about my life this will probably be the title. It’s become rather something of a theme for me, a way of seeing the world, of guiding my own life, and of observing the lives of others.

Sandcastles can be small projects made just for fun, or award-winning epic endeavors intended to be admired by all. But regardless of their scale or the effort put into them, they can never cheat the tide that comes to wash them back to sea. And if you do try to cheat the tide and build yours beyond its reach, it will inevitably crumble away anyways without the moisture to sustain it.

The final moments of a pretty awesome sandcastle I saw at White Rock Beach during our Canada trip.

This is something I have to remind myself of often, whenever I worry about how I don’t have a master life plan like so many others seem to: a 5-year, 10-year and 20-year set of goals to be worked towards. I don’t know for certain what I’ll be doing even a year from now, never mind what country I’ll be living in. I’m almost 28 years old now, and my sandcastle seems to be lagging behind a lot of the other kids my age – kids who already own their own homes, have their own kids, and are well into developing some semblance of a promising career. Returning “home” to Canada for a visit brought this to light in a new way, as I saw how everyone’s lives had progressed while I’ve been playing in the waves on the other side of the sea.

I don’t have any problem with not having a bigger sandcastle, so to speak. I seem to like building little ones and letting the tide wash them away even as I’m working on the next one. And of all the things adults have told me about my life as a wanderer – and by adults, I mean people at least a generation or more above me as I know I’m an a legitimate “adult” as well now – one of the things that stands out overwhelmingly is the sentiment, “I wish I could have done what you are doing now, but I never had the chance and now it’s too late.”

Hobbes knows where it’s at. Credit: Bill Watterson

The idea of living for the next step has never appealed to me – we go to elementary school to prepare for high school to prepare for university to prepare for a career to prepare for retirement to prepare for… what exactly? The tide to come at once, finally, to wash us away? The happiest post-retirement age people I’ve known are the ones who didn’t sit back and wait for the tide, but kept going, kept building, kept creating and kept experiencing. And so I’ve always been attracted to ways out of this cycle – traveling, for example. To many it seems like traveling means putting “real life” on hold. But to me it’s as real, and as temporal, a sandcastle as any.

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
        and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
        nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

I don’t believe entirely that everything is meaningless – I think our experiences and relationships are laden with meaningfulness, albeit in a temporal sense. Fleeting moments, shared experiences, even family and friends come and go; the memories stay with us but even they fade with time. From a larger perspective, everything on this side of eternity is chasing after the wind, building sandcastles only to have them washed away, sooner or later.

Some people may find this a rather depressing perspective. Or perhaps, deep down, even a terrifying one – if you spend your entire life perfecting your ideal sandcastle, I can see why the suggestion of its imminent demolition might be a fearful prospect. On the contrary, I find it hopeful. The tide doesn’t discriminate; it takes the bad with the good. Sorrow from the death of someone close to you, for example. A broken marriage, or a series of them, as is the case with many people in my life, and probably with at least a few people in yours. I’ve had a lot of sandcastles crumble in the past, and I’ve mourned for them. But there are always new sandcastles to build. And with sandcastles, it’s the fun of building more than the finished product that counts.

The tide has breached the outer walls! Retreat to the keep!


3 thoughts on “Sandcastles Never Last

  1. I am pleased that you both have embarked on adventure to allow the experience of foreign culture to integrate your world view while setting yourselves up to return some day with your student loans paid off. The roots don’t have to go down deep at this time to enjoy a wonderful life together.

  2. Wow! You said it all! This blog was very meaningful to me.
    You have such a way with words.
    Your experience in Japan will stay with you two FOREVER!
    To coin a song..Regrets you’ve had a few, but then too few to mention ….YOU DID IT YOUR WAY!
    I am seeing Japan in a whole different light than in our four trips there.
    WAY TO GO!
    Hugs, CAM

  3. Janelle, this is an amazing piece of prose. I deeply appreciate the depth of sharing, the uncertainty of your journey, the tension conveyed by the metaphor of building something that is not meant to last, and the hope that it can be sustaining and real as the sandcastle is beautiful. There is something very palpable about this blog.

    Maybe there is risk in not building sandcastles too?

    You and Jordan are on a journey of your own making; one mapped out by your interests and needs. It has a different feel and appearance to the journey’s of your friends back home. Maybe theirs seems more tangible and that could be something to feel jealous of if you so chose. Their journey is their own and it might not be suitable to your need at this time or satisfy you. But there is something to be said for having a plan, figuring out a career direction, acquiring some life mortar to glue it all together, and a place to settle to call your own.

    Going with your metaphor, you may traverse many beaches in your quest to build sandcastles until you find the beach in your travels that you really want to construct something permanent upon. Whatever it is, I am sure the journey will have been wonderful and the beach beautiful to behold.

    Robert Frost, one of America’s greatest poets expressed some deep wisdom on this topic. Have a read of his poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’. I am sure you will find it meaningful. Blessings as you work out the road you travel on.

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