Fleeting and Wondrous Existence

Once when I was a little girl on vacation by the ocean, my grandmother handed me a pretty shell to keep. As we walked along the beach, I dropped it in the surf and a wave quickly washed it away. There was no finding it again. I don’t remember what the shell looked like, its shape or its color, only the sense of loss in my small heart.

My grandmother doesn’t know who I am anymore. When we visit in the nursing home, she tells me what a nice young lady I am with no recognition on her face and asks if I think her long fingernails are real.

This is the world we wake to—a transient kaleidoscope, ever shifting. From the flowers that bloom and then die to the melting snow and our own memories slipping away, nothing is permanent.

Often, I think when we feel the sand slip through the hourglass, we want to grasp something unchanging, so we take a steel grip to the arms of our friends and our lovers and constantly ask, Will this last? Will you stay?

But if it lasts two weeks or eighty years, it will end as all things end, in silence and dirt.

We are glimmering embers moments from the dark.

We are washed up on the shores of this life and ripped away in the next tide.

So. Does nothing matter? Or does it matter more because it’s fleeting?

And if someday we wake to eternity, what will we remember of this life? Will we tell our stories to the angels: Once I was a roving human, made of fragile dust, and I knew that I would die?

Will they ask us with fluttering wings, How then did you live?

I hope to say that I lived with my eyes open to the great miracle of existence, in the present—not dragging along a worn-out past or scrambling toward a half-painted future.

The present is the only moment we really have, the only one full to the brim with life, and yet it is enough—to wake to the sun-kissed world beneath a frolicking blue sky, a place where water shimmers and light coaxes trees and flowers to rise from the dirt. It is enough to catch the eye of another human across the table when they concentrate, and smile, to hear their voice and briefly become privy to the invisible world pulsing inside their mind.

What a blessed world we live in, for a moment.

So I want to stop clinging to life with a white knuckled fierceness and hold lightly the things I love. To let it all bloom in its moment, for a day or a year or a lifetime.

My grandmother does not remember my name, but each moment is a new one to tell a stranger how kind and how pretty she is.

Years later, on that same beach, a whole pile of sea urchins shells washed in, each purple with white dots radiating out from the center, delicate as if they’d been painted. May we see our lives like the sea, deep and unknowable, a shoreline always changing, but with new treasures carried in with each breaking wave.

And when we are pulled out with the tide, when friends and lovers leave by choice or by fate, when the spark goes out and our breath is a final exhale, may we let go with grace.


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