“Life is short, and time is swift; Roses fade, and shadows shift.”–Ebenezer Elliott
“It’s all just a carnival.”–Sri Swami Satchidananda
I can remember as a preteen, our family made its first week-long vacation with all three of my siblings and me to Wrightsville Beach, NC. We stayed in an old family-owned Inn just a short walk to the shoreline and pier as best I can recall. The owner, it seemed to me at the time, was an older lady who enjoyed getting to know her guests and gathering them each afternoon/evening for some sort of simple family-centered event, such as sharing freshly cut watermelon or offering an ice cream social hour.
Honestly, I do not remember many details about this trip, but I do recall making friends with another family who stayed in the same inn. With my parents permission, I accompanied this family to a local roller skating rink. At the time, I loved to roller skate. It was an older sibling in the family that drove all of us in a red-orange sports car, with the windows down, and with rock music blaring–the likes of which I had never before heard. Once at the roller rink, the same type of music continued, bright lights of colors were flashing, and a disco ball spun and sparkled in the center of the rink. At the time, I felt so grown up. I was certain that I was nearly touching adulthood as I skated around blissfully, ignorant of my very real youth.
In a similar vein, I can remember on another family vacation a few years later. This time we stayed on Outer Banks of NC, which was completely different from Wrightsville Beach because we were not near typical vacation attractions. The beach, at the Outer Banks, was the center attraction, which was fine by my family and me. My family stayed in a house that was “fourth row” back from the beach. While we could see a bit of the beach from the deck of the house, we still had about a 5-10 minute walk to the beach.
On this trip, my siblings and I made friends with another family. Their names were the Kirtleys, (I hope I am spelling their name correctly.) and they had three kids–two boys and one girl, if I am remembering correctly. Their family had an ocean front vacation home with a line of glass windows that ran from bottom to top with a spiral staircase visible through the panes. It seemed so spectacular in my teenage mind.
Once, their family invited our family over for drinks and appetizers. While my parents did not drink much in the way of alcohol, they still accepted their invitation. I can recall walking the length of the spiral staircase with one of the Kirtley kids and looking out at the ocean from the top of the stairs that opened up into a large main floor with abundant and unspoiled views of the ocean. I was certain that it was one of the finest things I had ever climbed and the ocean seemed so close and vivid–like I could hear the water breathing.
These trips were like visiting a carnival or amusement park, highly anticipated events that seemed the most important thing in the world, but like the numerous sand castles I have built over the years, the tide, like time, drew up, and washed the moment away. How many moments of life are like that? Graduating from high school, winning some sort of special event or game, attaining a job, planning and taking part in a special ceremony, and even the simple act of going to dinner with a loved one. The people, the moment, the time, the event . . . so special, so sacred, so anticipated . . . Then, like the snap of your fingers, time’s tide rolls in, and it is over. Just as the ocean shore in July is smooth and pristine in the dawn of the morning with no evidence of the previous day’s beach goers, so too is the present moment.
The present moment is so golden, and yet it is so overlooked. Magical memories are being made, and we don’t realize it. People come and go in our lives. Events occur and pass. One moment, you’re on the Big Dipper roller coaster in Camden Park with a friend surrounded by strangers, and then you, your friend, the other riders, as well as the amusement park’s employees move on.
For a time period, a child is small and dependent, but soon becomes an adolescent with thoughts of independence. For a season, you encounter the same person at the grocery store, week in and week out, then that employee is seen no more. You work with a person for years, but eventually, the workplace changes. One day you’ve earned your way to the top of the work heap, the next you are no longer there. Attaching to titles, money, things, and even moments are all temporary. We leave this earth the way we entered it: naked and with no belongings.
What remains in between is each present moment while it lasts. The kindnesses of gentle words, the acts of warmhearted acts of compassion, the peacefulness of the calm, the resonance of laughter and joy, and the humble tears streaming quietly down the cheek. From the cantaloupe-colored sunrise, to the gleaming midday sun dancing through amber autumn leaves; from the purples and indigoes of sunset over the Ohio River to blinking of faraway stars and planets against an inky sky, and all other moments in between, the present moment is humbly, but fleetingly, waiting for us. It is right there, in our sight, but cannot be grasped or attained–only lived in for that one moment–then, like the footprints in the shore line sand, it is washed away.
What also remains is the earth, the sea, and the heavens above. People come and go in our lives. Words and actions can build or destroy the present moment. Let us all use our golden present moments to find the common ground, share kindnesses, so that one day we may walk the ultimate spiral staircase to a higher ground.
“Earth sky sea and rain . . .
Words that build or destroy . . .
I’d like to be around
In a spiral staircase
To the higher ground . . .” –excerpt from “Promenade” as performed by U2, written by Clayton, Evans, Mullen, & Hewson