Their work drew in a steady stream of curious beach-walkers throughout the afternoon.
With an elegance I rarely witness, they carved and chiseled the sand with specialized tools. We couldn’t help but stop and stare alongside the others.
A few times each week, this small group of committed artists sets up their sand-castle building station. First digging a moat around the future site, then staking up a few windsocks to blow in the breeze, piquing the interest of beach-goers near and far, and lastly, digging, quite literally, into their work.
Giant garbage cans for shaping the main towers and domes of the castle. Tiny scoopers, scrapers, wedges, and straws for the detailed design of bridges, arches, staircases, doors, and windows.
Meticulous about every movement, they carefully wielded their helpful gadgets with the precision of a brain surgeon.
Fully engrossed with the placement of each grain of sand, I didn’t know this amount of attention and proficiency could be applied to something as playful as building a sand castle. And to think, they still made sure to chat with onlookers, answer our burning questions, and laugh together, albeit many times they couldn’t afford to make eye contact until they had completed a specific part of the castle.
What struck me most about this sand-castle club was their tangible joy and the serious nature with which they worked, knowing full well all the evidence of their craftsmanship and toil would be washed up with the fast approaching tide.
They didn’t possess an average, garden-variety joy. How could they?
In a matter of a few hours, their near-perfect creation would melt back into the sea without a trace.
A slow disappearance at first, a tower falls here, a bridge collapses there, but with just one strong and sneaky wave the entire mini-kingdom they had diligently spent hours crafting would turn to ruins.
Did it ever exist? Did it count as art, as work?
After a few minutes of watching them, I shuddered at the humbling truth of it all.
I am a castle-builder too. Only I’m certain I don’t carry the same tenacious spirit into my days as they do.
I know I cannot control when the tide will catch me, reaching up with its powerful arms to remind me my work was never designed to last forever, but I still try to deny it. When what I’ve pursued and planned falls apart, the pangs of sadness flow right alongside the bold waves washing away my once sturdy walls.
But I don’t want to turn away anymore from the demolition of my dreams and projects, I need to see it because I get it wrong most days.
Success isn’t gathering people to stand in awe of my rigorous efforts or applaud my beautiful works of grandeur.
Success is about showing up with joy each day, sprinting down to the unsettled shores of life, buckets and shovels under my arms, and a sly smile etched across my face from the simple satisfaction of being alive, building castles out of sand.
This is serious work.