I had a thought this morning, and strange as it might be it was what if a single grain of sand on a beach were a conscious being. Imagine all it would see, but also, all it would wish and hope for.
My own father died at fifty-eight from cancer, and my mother in 2012 at seventy-seven. They dearly loved the Outer Banks of North Carolina and that love also influences this story. Then there is the sad influence of cancer and what it takes from those suffering from it, and from those that lose friends and loved ones to it.
This is dedicated to all those touched one way or another by this terrible disease.
Once, on a wide, windswept beach, there existed a single grain of sand. To see it lying there among all the rest you’d never know it was any different, or special in any way at all, but it was.
For eons it remained on this beach, rarely staying in the same location. Hurricanes, Nor’easters, the tides, and wind kept it in constant motion, sometimes covering it and sometimes revealing it to sunrises and starry nights, and even though a sunrise promised a new day and new experiences depending on the season, the stars were its preferred thing to see. It loved to watch the endless, winking, pinpoints of light as they rotated across the night sky, and wondered if their existence was anything like being a grain of sand.
Summer was its favorite season. Children came with small plastic pails and shovels to dig and to run and to laugh on and around the grain, and this was the closest it ever came to the simple joy of play or friendship. But soon they would leave, dragging their toys and memories along with them, and the grain of sand wished its existence was like theirs, and nothing like being a spec of worn seashell on a lonely beach.
In fact it had never met a spec similar to itself, just those that looked the same, but never bothering to ask questions or ponder their existence. They merely were, and were nothing else, never caring to know if they could be anything more.
One moonlit night, after a September tide resurrected the grain from its hurricane grave, a young women walked out onto the beach. She chanced to sit beside the grain, scooping it up in her hands along with hundreds of thousands of other grains, sadly oblivious to being discovered and to discovering.
Looking into her hands at the sand she smiled, then spoke, “Hello there my friends, I have missed you. I hope the wind and tides have not been too harsh while I was away, as life has been with me.”
The tiny grain wished at this moment, more than any other that it could speak. Even though it had never seen this woman it wanted desperately to reply, I missed you also, and though the tide and wind move me about, it is no great bother. Please tell me how life has been with you? Of course it could not, but the hope remained.
The woman’s hands were warm as she held the single special grain, and all the rest. She leaned close and sniffed the salty ocean smell, and the single grain among all the rest managed to catch her aroma.
She whispered, “Would you believe that something smaller than one of you could make something as large as me sick, and so sick that I could die? It’s the truth, but I wish it wasn’t. That small thing is called cancer. It took my mother and my father, and it’s trying to take me too.”
The grain blinked and salty water squeezed from it’s tiny pores, its version of tears.
“But I’m not going to give in,” the woman said. “I’m entirely too young to leave this world, don’t you think?” The grain nodded, the movement measurable only on a microscopic scale, and it began to believe that there were worse things to be than a grain of sand, such as this thing called cancer.
The women raised her head to look at the moon and stars, the scarf around her head whipping in the wind, and said, “Sometimes I wish I was a grain of sand …” Her gaze moved back to the sand in her hands. “So how is it … to be one of you? You never get sick or lose a loved one. You get to see every single sunrise and starry night. And you even get to live through hurricanes without a scratch. How I envy you …”
Even, if at this very moment, the tiny grain was given the gift of speech, it had no idea what it might offer. For so long all its hopes and wishes had been for itself, and now it found itself wishing and hoping this woman could have her own dreams come true.
Finally she left and the grain resumed its life on the beach, much of it spent pondering the woman and what her fate might have been.
One June evening, just as the sun was settling itself into the sound behind the barrier island, a group of people filed out between the dunes. One man carried a container resembling a child’s beach pail, and two children walked to his left, hand in hand, clutching their father’s hand.
The vacation season was in full swing and the grain had had a busy day. It was now ready for a quiet night of star gazing, but halted its thoughts as it saw the group walk to where it lay among all the other specs and bits of shell around it.
The man removed the lid from the container, then reached in and took a handful of something, and the children did the same. Suddenly they threw what was in their hands into the wind, and fine particles mixed with the flowing tide of air escaped into the heavens, while a few drifted down to lay beside the grain of sand. Sadly, it recognized the aroma of his friend—the only friend it ever had, and salty tears squeezed from its pores as it realized she now knew what it was like to be a grain of sand, but not like him at all. Now she would be part of a larger whole, and she would see every sunrise and starry night, and she would never be bothered again with the weathering of any storm for all her existence to come.