The storms and floods of winter have brought a whole load of forestry and detritus onto the beach;
And it didn’t take many days before someone had found a washed up pallet and made a bench, a coffee table and a sort of (inefficient) windbreak. Home from home.
And then came the first beach sculpture, or is it a tipi, or a mermaid’s lookout station?
But that just seemed to whet the appetite for a bigger one and a bigger one still, until there were five dotted along the dunes and the Daddy of them all was this great edifice, 10 ft tall;
It hasn’t, apparently, ended there. This morning there’s a distinctly phallic beastie rising up from the sand, firmly dug in (which must have taken some hard work) a monument to man’s need to muck about with what is already beautiful and perfect, and to have some fun, and to achieve great and wonderful things that will last five minutes and soon be forgotten. Look at the base and you’ll see one of the dogs, to give you some idea of the scale and girth of the thing. What will it be? A simple totem pole or maybe the centre support of a grand marquee?
It reminds me of the summer when we sit on the rocks in the mornings, and so often see a carefully built pile of stones, left there until a dog gallops through them, or a child gleefully kicks them over, or maybe until someone tries to carefully add yet one more stone and sends the whole lot falling….
I have mixed feelings about the stones. Some days they’re just an annoyance, intruding on the natural scene, reminding me of man’s sense of self-importance, of his need to make his puny mark in all that splendour, state his claim, leave a sort of pious graffiti…. “This is my soulful work, and I was here.” I really don’t react well to that sort of naval gazing striving for serenity. Bloody hell, get over yourself.
But I know too that my attitude is not great, and that stacking stones is a meditative and benign practice, so I leave the tottering piles alone, tell myself off for being such a mean minded old trout, shuffle my bum so I’m pointing another way and bingo! They no longer intrude on the wonderful scene that God has given me.
I do, however, love the washed-up shanties of sticks, the scattering of strange quasi-buildings, the promise of that huge pole pointing up to the sky. They remind me of the fun to be had discovering and collecting driftwood, deciding where to build, how to build, running across the beach, shouting to each other. Little monuments to a day’s fun, to mankind’s love of challenge and work, and a celebration of being a part of a team. And maybe if the weather is fine, and the wind is blowing all day (as it is today) those sticks will dry out, and someone with a wood burner will be able to gather them once more, and take them home for kindling. I hope so. A crackling roaring warming fire.
It’s all about balance. Not balancing stones but balancing the joy of the day with the sadness of the world and the promise of eternity. Not always an easy feat, that. The tightrope between hope and trust and sorrow.
My return to care work reminds me, almost constantly, of the book of Ecclesiastes. Here we are, caring for men and women who were once top of their game, capable strong fathers, loving mothers, farmers and businessmen and women, nurses and doctors, people who travelled the world, who spoke several languages… and now? Now they remember none of it, or sometimes they half-remember a fleeting image, or a phrase, and respond to some imagined question as if they were still living as they once did, and as if I am a person they knew back then, a daughter or a friend, or even a mother. Where are yesterday’s triumphs now? How did all that ambition and work end up here?
Oh, I did great things: built houses,
planted vineyards, designed gardens and parks
and planted a variety of fruit trees in them,
made pools of water to irrigate the groves of trees.
Oh, how I prospered! I sucked the marrow of pleasure out of every taskmy reward to myself for a hard day’s work!
Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing.
Ecclesiastes 2 (The Message Translation, edited by me!)
Because of Covid these elderly people, already imprisoned by dementia, are kept from familiar faces and the love of their families. Yesterday a husband came to see his bedridden wife and all he could do was look at her through a double glazed window. That’s surely the cruellest cold blow at the end of life? Today I found myself cradling another sweet face and looking into her twinkling but uncomprehending eyes, overcome with love for her (anyone would be. Anyone). “Hello there, sweetheart” I said, and she smiled back at me and said with such tender longing “Ah, Cariad, I’ve missed you all these years.” I think that’s what yesterday’s visiting husband would love to do, look into his wife’s eyes, and hear those words from her lips. I think it would ease his pain. Now, seeing this cruel separation first hand, it’s become more than a regrettable reality; ‘social distancing’ has taken on a new and heart breaking meaning for me. I long for the day when we can embrace again.
Strange that with all of human history behind us, we still find delight in gathering and building, in fleeting success and achievements, in reputation and fame, in money and possessions – piling up stones, propping up sticks – even though we know that all this will soon be gone. Everything we achieve and value will be gone. Statues will topple, people will be forgotten, history will be warped, the mists of time will close in. The only real and lasting things in life are God and the human soul. Wonderful to take delight in sticks and stones and laughter and fun, but the only true treasure is knowing and loving and belonging to God.
Yet all of the accomplishments that I once took credit for, I’ve now forsaken them and I regard it all as nothing compared to the delight of experiencing Jesus Christ as my Lord! To truly know him meant letting go of everything from my past and throwing all my boasting on the garbage heap. It’s all like a pile of manure to me now, so that I may be enriched in the reality of knowing Jesus Christ and embrace him as Lord in all of his greatness. Philippians 3:7-9 (TPT)
Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
PS: Two days later…. the builders are becoming more sophisticated. Now there’s a doorway, a threshold…..