Saturday, August 29, 2009

Building sand castles

We recently spent a day playing at the beach with our six-year-old son. We built the standard things - castles, moats, little villages - all of which were eventually wiped out by "tidal waves" crashing over them. Our son reveled in the experience, frantically building castles and protective moats, then laughing hysterically when they were overrun by water, only to dive in and start building again.

This, of course, got us thinking about the absurd. Specifically, building sand castles seems a wonderful allegory for all the things we "build" in life, such as family, careers, and social networks, not to mention the incredibly seductive (yet ultimately ephemeral) sense of who we "are." (Along similar lines, a reader recently mentioned a woman named Byron Katie to us - she is another promoter of the absurd lifestyle. She recently published a book with the terrific title "Who would you be without your story?")

The point is that all the things we "build," the people, events, and experiences that seem so all-encompassing and critically important, are nothing more than sand castles with longer lifespans. These lifespans, of course, prevent us from seeing the transitory nature of everything we do, since we get constant and persistent feedback that such things do, in fact, matter. In other words, it is very difficult to view your family or career as meaningless when you not only spend decades cultivating and maintaining them, but are also surrounded by people constantly telling you they do matter.

We found our son's behavior to be a wonderful template for how to go through life. We also found it illuminating given recent reader comments that have suggested we are not capable of "enjoying" experiences as much as people who find meaning in them. But as we have pointed out, lack of meaning need not equate to lack of enjoyment - in fact, we find it to be quite the opposite. Our son, for example, was under no illusions that his sand castles would be permanent, or indeed that they had any significance beyond his immediate enjoyment (or for that matter, than one castle was more "meaningful" than another, even if only to him), and yet he found tremendous joy in building them. (And, we would note, in seeing them destroyed...)

Carpe diem!

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