I met Rusty Croft on Navarre Beach when he was competing with other sand sculptors in a contest designed to promote tourism in the area. It was like an exhibition game for sand sculptors that involved two days of creating before the final “judging”.
The night before the judging, it rained on Navarre Beach. Hard.
I went onto the beach with my camera the morning after the storm, intent on capturing a few more shots of the fishing pier before being whisked off on another day of scheduled sightseeing. That’s how I came to be standing in front of Rusty Croft as he carefully tried to rebuild two days of work that had been washed out by Mother Nature overnight.
“Isn’t this frustrating?” I asked him.
Rusty looked around at the now faceless sculptures he’d created. He shrugged and grinned at me. “What can you do?”
“True… ” It occurred to me that he worked in the medium of temporary. “Is it hard to make these things that you know can’t last?”
He shrugged again, grinned wider as if he was deciding whether or not to share a delicious secret. “It’s all temporary.”
I must have looked startled. I was a little, truth be told. He’d just uttered a simple truth that’s easy to read on a slip of paper that comes out of a stale cookie at a Chinese restaurant, but harder to dismiss as trite when you can feel the proof between your toes.
It’s all temporary.
Rusty started talking about a tradition among Tibetan Buddhists that involves making elaborate sand mandalas out of colored sand with the express purpose of destroying it as soon as it’s done. “Some of them take years to make”, Rusty said. “And when they’re done,” he made a wiping motion, “gone. It’s supposed to remind them that everything is temporary.”
I thanked Rusty for his time and let him get back to the work of rebuilding his temporary sand sculptures. I made my way back to the group of writers and PR guides and finished my trip without event, my brief encounter with Rusty Croft a seemingly insignificant moment amidst a busy few days away.
Except, of course, that it wasn’t.
I’ve replayed that conversation over and over again in my mind over the last few months. I’ve learned more about the sand mandala. I’ve obsessed about the lesson they’re designed to teach.
It’s all temporary.
More than that, it seems that there is joy to be found in the temporary.
I’m used to the idea of using inevitable change to soothe. “This too shall pass” is something we say when this hurts. It’s something we try to forget when this is good. But I can’t seem to be able to forget it anymore. I haven’t been able to unsee the undeniable passage of time and impermanence of material things ever since standing in the sand with Rusty Croft.
It’s kind of scared the hell out of me.
I think it has also given me freedom.
I don’t feel like I have to know what I’m meant to do or what I’ll be when I grow up. Those phrases are heavy with the assumption of a finality that just doesn’t exist. I don’t have to pretend to figure out what will come next, because the things I know and make decisions based on will change. I can, instead, just focus on sucking everything I can from this moment.
I no longer feel this enormous pressure to figure out What Will Make Me Happy Forever.
I only have to worry about what makes me happy right now.
And I can do that. I bet you can, too.