One of the realities of being alive is that death is an eventuality. Over each of our shoulders looms the spectre that will some day come for us all. Despite our growing comprehension of life extension, this is something that is an absolute certainty. Whether it’s five minutes, five days, five months or five hundred thousand years from now, each of us will die and a few generations past that time every bit of evidence of our lives (unless we are truly exceptional) will be erased.
Even beyond then, millions of years into the future, the Earth will eventually be destroyed by the expansion and death of the sun. After that, the galaxy Andromeda will collide with the Milky Way which will dissolve our current solar system as it exists after the death of the sun and billions of years after that will be the death of the universe itself. These are all certainties, and despite our growing grasp of scientific knowledge, there is precious little that we can do about any of these things. Death is a built-in part of life that we must all face sooner or later, with the only dignity available to most of us is being able to ward it off for as long as possible.
To this, I recommend that all of us consider the sand castle.
I grew up in Southern California, though I now live in Wisconsin. Every year, when I was little, my parents would take me to some fair or another and at most of these fairs would be these beautiful, intricately created sand castles. They were all enormous, and they would all be strikingly beautiful, with an unbelievable amount of effort put into them. I can still remember most of them quite vividly as they stood under the baking, California summer sun. These were always one of my favorite parts of going to these fairs, even if I wasn’t completely enamored with every other part of them.
Despite the fact that these construction projects were built miles inland and far away from the ocean, eventually they will be destroyed. Sure, there will be pictures of them, but those pictures will be totally forgotten sooner or later. They’ll vanish and there will be nothing left of them aside from fleeting memories that will also be gone in a few fleeting moments. And what of it? What of their temporary states?
Life is brief, but it’s that very briefness that makes it as beautiful as it is. If life was eternal, there would be no urgency to anything. What would it matter if I get my degree in a month or a million months from now? The transitory nature of these things is what makes them so beautiful, so shocking in their current states. That’s what makes sand castles and ice sculptures so wonderful to look at, because we know that there is a built in expiration date to these things and that expiration date is fairly soon. We do what we can at the moment that we can, and if we hold on too tightly to the moment that we’re in, we’ll miss the next one.
If the sand sculptor held on too tightly to what they were doing, then it would never be created. That sculptor would never move a finger, because they would be transfixed with the knowledge that what they do is going to be erased in a few minutes and we would all be deprived of that wonderful sight that they could otherwise give us. So to is it with our lives. If we lament over eternity and if we despair at the transitory nature of our lives, then we will never actually live them.
So, I say, be like the ice and sand sculptor. Embrace the brevity of what we have and make something beautiful with it. After all, tomorrow it may be too hot for ice to stand for very long outside, or it may rain. Embrace the moment and forget about eternity.