It’s the old folks who will trip you up. They have enough sunsets behind them that they will ambush you hard. You’ll never see it coming and when it arrives, it’ll knock you into next week – the place your mom threatened to send you if you talked back like that ever again!
We were on the beach and he had listened to me blather for awhile when he held up his hand, gently suggesting that I settle in for a listen.
He propped himself up on his elbows and looked in my general direction. He didn’t look at me exactly but more like past me, into the distant clouds where apparently there was something more important to see.
You should pick up that little sand pail.
I looked at him.
Just pick it up.
Build a castle – just a small one. Two or three little towers should about do it. But make it nice. Put it on a hill. Carve in some windows, maybe make a little moat. Maybe a turret or two. Be proud of it.
Raised eyebrows, a jut of the chin to prod me into motion.
I stood up and brushed the sand from my legs, from my shorts, and looked at him again.
Get to it.
Twenty minutes later he nodded, giving his seal of approval to my masterpiece.
That’s good. You did well.
Thanks. I like it.
He nodded again.
Now step on it. Step on all of it.
What? You just told me to build it!
Yep. I did, now step! Get to it.
I sighed, and I might even have rolled my eyes a little. In seconds, there was nothing left.
What was that all about?
Did you like your little castle?
I guess so. Yeah. I liked it. It was good.
Were you a little bit proud of it, because you had made something out of nothing?
Did it protect you in any way?
What!? No, of course not.
What’s it look like now?
A pile of sand.
Did it ever protect anybody or do any real good?
How big is it now?
Big? It’s not big at all.
How useful is it now?
It’s not useful at all. What’s this all about?
Was it ever useful in a meaningful way?
No. You know it wasn’t.
If you stood on it, would it make you any better than anyone else?
No, of course not. What’s the point of all this?
Did it make you any better than anyone else on this beach?
What? No. I don’t get it. What’s a sand castle got to do with what we were talking about?
He smiled that slow, easy smile I’d come to appreciate over the years.
That, he said with deep and gentle kindness in his voice, was your moral high ground. You don’t have any. None of us do.
He smiled again and shook his head slowly, as if at himself as much as at me.
Son, it’s easy to build it up but it doesn’t do anybody a damn bit of good. With a swift kick or two, maybe a well placed question about your own life, it all comes crashing down. Now quit blathering.
He smiled again.
Try to be kind. Hold people to account because we all make mistakes – even ones that are hard to fix – but be decent about it. Now sit back down and let’s get back to enjoying the day.
He closed his eyes and leaned into the warmth of the afternoon.
I should have seen it coming.