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A Line in the Sand

By Lauren Heck




      

The beach is hot, my skin feels the burning of the sun, I am dehydrated, and with every step I take a gust of wind carries granules of sand into my eyes. My beach bag is becoming heavier the longer I wait for my mom to finish packing up. The pain is incipient, slowly tugging away at my weary muscles. As we pack up our things, I lurk behind my sister, following her to the shoreline one last time. Each step I take hurts my feet. I think about the fact that people would usually describe the feeling of sand as comforting. Yet all I feel is pain. 

It is a weary thing, being human. Always tired. Never enough. Everyone around me seems content. Yet I am not content, and I do not know why I am standing here, on the beach, thinking about what it means to be human.

All I feel is a sharp aching, shooting up the arch of my foot from heavily pacing across what feels like the densest and most compact collection of minerals the earth has to offer. As my sister dips her toes in the water, she sighs. She can’t seem to get enough of this place. All I want is to leave. I look down at the painful and itchy substance under my feet, watching, meditating on my weariness as I begin to trace my initials in it. It is peculiar to me how a beach filled with so much pain could bring so much joy to one person. What colored shades must we have on to experience pain and to count it all as joy.[1] 

I look at my line drawn in the sand. Maybe, if somebody sees my line in the sand, they will know that I am looking and searching for something to define who I am. Maybe they too are looking and searching to define who they are.

As my family finishes packing up, I stride towards the path, away from the beach. As I turn around, I look back to my line. A wave crashes over the patch in which I drew my initials. Over the thing that I drew. As the tide recedes, I can see from a distance my carving in the earth sinking in the shapelessness of the sand. I stare in remorse. A small child then runs through the marking, leaving her footprints over my initials. In just a few short moments, the marking of myself is gone, and victim to that of nature and to the unknowing feet of a young girl. 

A line drawn in the sand. I cannot rebuild what is broken. Though it was just my initials, I feel that it was much more than that. It was a call out of desperation, a call for hope, a last chance to see if the sand could reveal any sort of happiness in a place that feels completely devoid of it. 

I felt that the line I had drawn was special, yet it is infinitesimally possible that the line drawn in the sand may not be as clear-cut as I had hoped. In fact, with 7.5 sextillion[2] grains of sand on the planet, the definition between real and true and whole and pure becomes emulsified by the rush of the water that erases my little line. Suddenly there is no line at all but only a faint idea of what is known and what is not.

This beach is supposed to have the world’s best sand. Can I discredit it because I’m in pain? Can I believe a promise that I may never tangibly see? Can I deny a blessing that I may never see fulfilled on my own?

7,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 is a lot of sand. It also contains a lot of zeros. So many zeros that you may begin to run over the digits without comprehending or assigning any sort of visualized value to the incomprehensible granules that line our feet. It is estimated that to date about 117 billion[3] people have been alive at some point in time. Each one of them was created as a being with a soul. Yet 117,000,000,000 people is another number we could never possibly begin to assign any sort of value to. Just like the sand, it is beyond our comprehension to understand that each of those beings is unique. Each of those beings has had their own thoughts, skills, desires, and vices. Each of them has made mistakes, has given up, and has hurt another one of the other 117 billion individuals on this earth. 

And as I stare at the sand, I negate the blessing of 117 billion descendants, and the joy of 7.5 sextillion little grains of sand.[4] And it is not to be forgotten that each of these 117 billion individuals makes 35,000[5] decisions a day. Decisions that may deny the truth we have drawn in the sand for ourselves, decisions with inherent selfishness written across the soul, contradicting that which we intended. How many of the lines I draw in the sand fail to uphold the exact replica of my line that I now watch faintly sinking into the earth? How many of my lines are unconsciously written in deceit?[6]

I stand for a moment. Part of me wants to redraw my line. Would it be worth it? Is it worth the pain to go back to the spot to rewrite my line? I feel a tug upon my heart; maybe, just this once if I can get it right, I can write my initials within the sand. Maybe this time it will stay complete. Maybe this time I will finally find meaning, and somebody will know that I am looking to define who I am.  

In order to try and draw my shaky and unstable line in the sand I must first understand that the sand on which I draw is going to betray me. The definition of truth I give this new line of sand is likely to become that which I did not originally understand or intend. This is a line that is drawn in a few thousand of the other 7.5 sextillion grains of sand. Yet many of those grains of sand will get stepped on or flushed away or drawn over by somebody else’s line. They will be made into something of someone else’s and never again see the exact subjectivity of my intentions. And it hurts to know this. And it makes me wonder if there is a beach out there where the sand does not hurt my feet and I will not be burnt by the heat of the sun. A beach that is so beautiful and good and true that maybe I do not even need to draw the line because I will no longer be looking to define who I am, because I will already know.

It is hard to comprehend that maybe I don’t need to draw my own line in the sand. Why would I draw a new line in a world where everything is old? What if I don’t get to draw my own line at all?  If I get to draw my own lines, I must draw in a vacuum, absent of the laws of nature that govern the world around me. But there is no such vacuum. When I draw lines that are attempting to be new and abstract, they do not stand a chance, constantly at battle against the line of every other individual on this earth.

I become overwhelmed, imagining all 17 billion people to ever live trying to draw their own line here on this beach. Each one carefully drawing, tripping, and running into one another. The beach is crowded, yet the sand is desolate, and soon all that is here will again become dust.[7] 

I notice, with tears rolling over the glass of my eyes, that I am not the only one whose line has been run over by the little girl. She has run right through what remained of the sandcastle only a few yards away.  Earlier, a few young and giggling boys had toppled over the same structure in a game of football. One seemed as if he only felt a little bad, while the other hadn’t even noticed.

I begin to notice how infallible human nature is. It is the exact fallibility of being human that is infallible. And while that fallibility is often accidental, much like the feet of the little girl, often what one individual will consider a fatal error, another will see as a moral deed. Who is to say that the child’s sprint across the sand was meant to crush all that I defined my line to be? Who am I to say what she intended? I will never get to draw my line in a vacuum, absent of running girls and toppling boys. The little girl stepped on my creation. And who was to say that she wasn’t trying to draw her own line in my place?

What one may describe as truth another may define as the absence of it. I find that the lines we draw are waging war against the 117 billion lines just trying their best to get through each day. But that will never be enough. I stare down at my feet, sinking into the compact minerals. My line will never be enough.

And it hits me like the rushing of the waves in the ocean.

I find I am at war with myself, at war against my line today, against my line tomorrow. The truth on this beach appears blurry, it is unstable, and I am struggling to hold my ground. It is because I am human. It is because I am fallible. It is because I am trying so hard to define myself by my own ability to create something which I am not. It is because I am wrestling with the desire for someone to know who I am. It is because I want to be my own truth in a world that tells me there is none. Yet to live in a world where there is no constant and ultimate truth is to live in a world where there is no good or bad, there is no love or hate, there is no joy or suffering. There is only a multitude of existences constantly colliding with one another. 

Yet amidst the suffering, and the itchy substance under my feet, there must be a line that cannot be erased, one that holds the ultimate truth, a line that all of the sand and water in this beach must rest upon. I am tempted to believe that there is no truth. Yet why, if there is no ultimate truth, is it right to love and wrong to hate? Why is it right to stand up for the poor, and wrong to be the oppressor? Why is it right to feel empathy and wrong to neglect the needs of others? The strings of our souls are pulled toward what we know deep down to be real, an eternal truth written across our hearts.[8]

My line, completely desolate by now, is calling to a hurt deep within me. So often I am the one doing the hurting. I am the one misusing. I am the one promoting suffering upon others contrary to my own realization. When choosing to draw my own line I am constantly at battle with myself and with others. How can my heart continue to look to itself to find meaning and value? Where within the fallibility of my own heart do I make room for the meaning and value of 117 billion other souls, broken and bruised, searching for their own line in the sand?

I notice my cynicism begins to take over my entire body. But within my cynicism is a sort of slow and steady revelation: I am utterly hopeless in this world left to my own devices. I am often utterly hopeless, left to the devices of others as well. I have been trying to create a solution to my problem, a solution that only breeds more problems because I am imperfect, because I am always failing myself. How am I to draw my own line in constant instability while simultaneously colliding into the lines of others? I am even tempted to resent the rhythms of the waves and the footprints of the little girl. I want the ability to define myself as good. I don’t want to be the one colliding into other lines. But I can no longer trust that my good will is good.

Yet to define human beings as good and bad is to define subjectivity as objectivity. Who am I to say that my own personal subjectivity is objectively correct? It is to believe that the line I drew is the only line ever drawn correctly. It is pride that believes its own subjectivity to be objective. But I know that is not true. My line will never be enough.

It is the loose string of our own contradictory philosophies that intertwine with that of another to create absolute moral chaos. Even in the event that I subscribe to the objective morality of another I find myself corrupt. I cannot live in complete accordance with such a law.[9] Yet there must be someone, somewhere who has never fallen to such corruption.

I believe this is why organized religion has become popular among the masses. As humans, our brains are programmed to be infatuated with something. This is defined as worship. Worship, though often associated with rituals and singing, is an action produced by that in which you follow. It is the submission of your daily life to a particular object of concentration. It is a submission to whoever, wherever, or however you define your line in the sand. I begin to contemplate who will define my line in the sand, who I will place my faith in, where I will extend my complete trust.

I begin to realize that most extend their faith to the very image of themselves, driven completely by worship and discovery of what they alone deem to be true. Yet I find that this is what is causing my problem. It is my faith in myself that is making my faded line in the sand so painful.

I look up at the horizon, envisioning all the lines being drawn simultaneously around me. Yet none of them are right, none of them are true.  But there on horizon, I see a line where the sun separates the heavens and the earth just as it has every day for all of eternity. And for a small moment I get a glimpse of joy.[10]

And as I stare at the rising sun, the same sun that rises and sets on this beach every day, I realize that there is not a solution to my problem but rather an inquiry I must make. An asking, a seeking, a knocking.[11] It is knowing that there is not enough within who I am to ever draw the perfect line. It is wisdom to begin to know one, and only one, truth and to spend my life in pursuit of it.  

As I stand on the beach, I continuously plant and replant my feet on the earth. The sand is still uncomfortable, but I cannot help but admit the ubiquitous beauty of the scenery, of what lies on the horizon. I see a sun reigning in the air, sovereign over all of the earth. The line that I had drawn is completely erased by now. Now, the more I think about my inability to create the perfect line, the less it bothers me. I have decided I am relinquishing my ability to draw a line in the sand. I will retire my ability to define my own line. I cannot ever create a perfect line in the sand, nor can I ever perfectly replicate that of another. But giving up my ability to create my own line of truth does not suspend my human ability. It allows me more peace and freedom than I ever could have attained by my own strength. Within it is the ability to accept my failure to draw my own line and pursue the strength of the one who drew the true and perfect line. There is peace where the perfect line meets the soul of the weak and extends an arm out in grace and mercy. I can have peace.

Because I have met Goodness. I have met the Truth.


 

I hope to spend the rest of my days in pursuit of the Goodness that found me that day on the beach. Every once and a while I begin to chase after the desire to draw my own line again. But I have peace in the knowledge of what it means to know a Goodness that is not my own. To have a relationship with Goodness. To wholeheartedly follow Goodness. 

κατέγραφεν εἰς τὴν γῆν [12]

 


 

[1] James 1:2
[2] Harris-Wyrick, Wayne. “More stars than grains of sand on earth? you bet.” The Oklahoman, 4 February 2019, https://www.oklahoman.com/story/lifestyle/2019/02/05/more-stars-than-grains-of-sand-on-earth-you-bet/60474645007/.
[3] Kaneda, Toshiko, & Carl Haub. “How many people have ever lived on Earth?” PRB, 15 November 2022, https://www.prb.org/articles/how-many-people-have-ever-lived-on-earth/
[4] Genesis 22:17
[5] Krockow, Eva M. “How Many Decisions Do We Make Each Day?” Psychology Today, 27 September 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stretching-theory/201809/how-many-decisions-do-we-make-each-day/.
[6] Jeremiah 17:9
[7] Genesis 3:19
[8] Ecclesiastes 3:11
[9] Romans 8:15
[10] Psalm 19:1
[11] Matthew 7:7
[12] John 8:6; The New Testament Translated in the Original Greek, translated by Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, (Cambridge: Macmillan, 1881), accessed from https://biblehub.com/whnac/john/8.htm.


 


 
Kathryn H. Ross lives and writes in Southern California. A second edition of her debut book, Black Was Not A Label, a collection of essays and poetry, was published by Red Hen Press in 2022. Her poetry chapbook, Count It All Loss, was published by GoldScriptCo in 2021. A lover of stories, Ross works as a freelance copywriter, editor, and consultant, and occasionally as an adjunct professor of English. Read her at Speak the Write Language and follow her @speakthewritelanguage on Instagram.

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