Yes, I know that long, loving walks along the beach is verbal kindling for a dating profile disaster, but I’ve been married for over 11 years, so I believe I can say it without sounding cliché. I love long walks along the beach. And while any walk along a beach is a great one, there is one that I’ll never forget and think about often.
It was 10 years or so ago. I was in Coronado, California visiting my husband’s family for Thanksgiving. We awoke early and walked to the coffee shop. Despite the wintery chill in the air, the sun was out and winter vacationers from all over the world were everywhere on the sidewalk that framed the beach—young couples, old couples, couples with children, joggers, walkers, dog people. It was a little crowded, but festive and cheerful.
As we maneuvered our way down the sidewalk, two children stood out: a young sister and brother who had obviously been told to wait by the lamppost while their parents rummaged around in the minivan parked next to them. To entertain themselves, the children were playing a game they had just created, a game I assumed was called, “This is My Pile of Sand.”
They took turns standing on the tiny piles of sand that had accumulated on either side of the lamppost. The sister would yell, “This is MY pile of sand,” and the brother would run to her side, stick his foot in the pile and yell, “No! This is MY pile of sand!” The sister would then run to the other side of the lamppost, stand in the tiny pile on that side and yell, “This is MY pile of sand.” I watched these barefooted children battle each other as we walked. It was all out war. Nothing could break their focus, not even their mother yelling to play nicely. As we passed them, I couldn’t help but look to my left.
There, filling the 200 yards between the sidewalk and the sea, sprawling miles down the waterscape in sheets of glistening white, were limitless tons of classic California sand. Some sand was spotted with footprints from tourists, some lay smooth, and still more lay in waves, textured by the wind—all just a few feet from where the children played.
There were piles and piles of sand the children never even noticed because they were too busy fighting over the tiny accumulations around the base of the lamppost where they stood. They never even looked up. The thought never occurred to them that more sand could be waiting just moments away on the other side of the concrete path
Now, in their defense, they were children—children who were no doubt told by their parents not to so much as look in the direction of the beach. They were children who had no choice but to keep themselves busy while waiting for their parents to take them by the hand and lead them to their next adventure. They did the best they could with what they had without being tempted by what was around them.
They were just children, but I couldn’t help but ask myself: What’s my excuse? On more than one occasion I have found myself entirely wrapped up, fighting and frustrated, stomping around barefoot trying to stake my claim on a tiny, insignificant pile of sand—the sand of relationships, the sand of social status, the sand of a career; whatever. I have been deeply consumed in these child’s games that leave me oblivious and blind to the beautiful beaches around me. Beaches with unlimited sand, possibility,
We’ve all been there, investing our energy in small things while the big ones lay untouched on the other side of the sidewalk. Especially in these times of change, it’s easy to focus on what we’re losing or what’s going wrong or what we can’t control. And it would be easier to diagnose this problem if it showed up in the form of petty bickering like the kids on the sidewalk.
Unfortunately for grown adults, the symptoms are more subtle. It shows up when we compare ourselves to others, scrolling through social media feeds and furrowing our brows at someone else’s good news, or thinking we can’t achieve what someone else has. It’s lurking when a deal falls apart and we assumed it was the only option. It happens anytime one door closes and we stand there staring at it instead of searching for the door, as the saying goes, that has just opened.
I think of those children on the sidewalk often. What could have been a fleeting observation has become a guiding moment. Any time I feel limited or constrained by the world or the rules around me, I think back to that long walk along the beach, the kids focused on what was at their feet, and I remind myself to always keep my gaze on the vast beaches ahead.
Read next: How Gratitude Works
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by @walton_dana121/Twenty20.com