The Lesson of the Sandcastle

It was darn impressive. I mean, it wouldn’t have won first place in one of those elaborate Sandcastle Competitions or anything, but still, someone had put a lot of time and effort into its creation. I had no idea the architect: a father and his children, a couple on their honeymoon, maybe a lonely soul finding solace in the sea. Whoever it was, I give them props, as building it was no small thing. There were battlements and towers, even a moat. The design was accented by shells with thought put into their placement. 

(Ask me to build a sandcastle and you’ll get a lump of sand with a piece of seaweed stuck in it for effect. And probably a cocktail umbrella at the base of the lump. Listen, people, my lumpy sandcastle has cocktails. And a happy hour. I don’t apologize for this.)

And as I stood there and looked at it, I thought three things: 

Wow, this beautiful castle took a lot of time to create,”

“I want to photograph this,”

“Uh oh, the tide is coming in.”

Now, I usually go nowhere without my camera, even if only the one in my iPhone, but OF COURSE, I didn’t have it with me as I stood there watching the water start to swirl around this castle of the sea. So, I ran all the way back down the beach to retrieve it from my bag. I’m sure I was a pretty sight. Just like a scene out of Baywatch, you know, if Baywatch featured a middle-aged woman with wet stringy hair wearing a rainbow striped cover-up and a ginormous floppy hat running along the beach, incapable of rescuing anything other than a lost doughnut.

Camera in hand, I ran back to the sandcastle to find it partially reunited with the sea. 

I planted myself shin-deep in the ocean and stood there, taking pictures as the water rushed in, harder and stronger, each time wreaking more havoc on the structure. A crack here, a chunk broken off there, details washed away forever. 

And as I stood there, the realization hit me in the stomach that someone built this incredible sandcastle KNOWING that in a few hours, it would be gone. They built it knowing full well that when the tide came in, it would reclaim their hours of hard work. The built it knowing it wouldn’t last. 

And yet…they built it anyway. 


Because maybe the joy isn’t in having completed it, but in the time spent building it. 

It was such a beautiful thought to me that I got a little verklempt, right there in the water. 

“Mommy, why is that lady with the gross hair, big hat and rainbow cover-up crying next to that sandcastle?”

“I don’t know, honey, but let’s leave her alone. By the looks of her, she’s not well.”

As the minutes ticked by, I watched the castle fully engulfed in waves. It made me a little sad, for in an hour, no one would ever know this sandcastle had existed. People walking the beach later that day, or the next, or the following week or month or year would never realize they were walking on the spot where this magnificent castle once stood, where hours were spent transforming lumps of wet sand into something beautiful.

And then I looked at the device in my hand and smiled, for while the castle in front of me would be washed away soon, it won’t ever truly be gone.

Its heart still beats in my camera.

And that, my friends, is exactly why you take a photograph.


1 Comment on The Lesson of the Sandcastle

  1. I hope someday the architect comes across this post and can appreciate the wonderment you found in his or her efforts. That would be pretty special.

    PS: Glad you enjoyed Oceanside, my northerly neighbor.

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