The waves will wash us away.
I’m walking along the beach on the West coast of the United States when I see it, carved into the rock: “S+H 4 Ever.” There is a heart carved around it, and a date: 9/2014. At first, my heart is warmed—it must have been hard to carve, a labor of love. But then, very quickly, my heart is chilled. Three years ago, “forever” was carved deeply into a rock, and three short years later, the crashing water is already eroding and erasing the letters. In those fading letters, I saw myself. I saw all of us.
The waves of time will wash us all away.
At some level, each of us is aware of this. So, we strive for immortality, by carving our initials into this life—we try to make our mark on the world. We try to make a difference. We long to be remembered. We hope to leave a legacy. We fight to outlast ourselves. But the truth is, aside from the occasional address in a field at Gettysburg, or a speech on the mall in Washington, most of us will not be remembered for very long.
Someone once said, “Every man dies two deaths. The first is when he takes his last breath. The second is the last time someone says his name.”
Our time here is short and, for most of us, the waves of time will eventually wash away even the memory of our existence, no matter how deeply we carve our initials into the bedrock of our lives.
Like I said, the heart-warming inscription only chilled me.
Two days later, though, I’m back in the heartland of America, and I’m sitting beside another body of water—a river—on a colorful, brittle autumn day. The season around me is yet another reminder of how everything and everyone is always dying and passing on. As I sit beside the river, the image of the waves slamming into the shore continues to haunt me. But then something happens.
As I watch the world around me, I see that it’s dancing.
I wish I could describe how the river glittered in the afternoon sun. This is the best I can do: it was like a diamond necklace running right through the forest of dying leaves, a diamond necklace made of water and sun, a diamond necklace being moved tirelessly by some divine hand, refracting light like a gift.
Leaves were being pulled loose from trees in a gentle breeze, then spun clockwise around the trunks on their way down to the cooling earth, where more leaves raced across the grass, apparently in concert, like flocks of birds. When the breeze stilled, the air for a moment looked empty, but if you looked closely enough, you could see millions of minuscule insects moving throughout it, each silhouetted by the slanting sunlight.
Everywhere I looked, the world was moving and dancing, dying and dancing.
Then, I knew: the waves on the West coast weren’t destroying those carved initials—they were dancing with them.
Then, I knew: we are not here to be remembered, we are here to be a dancer. We are here to move in this physical form, to stop moving, to die, to pass on, and then to move in the formless beyond.
Then, I knew: there’s a dance happening there, too.
“For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things; or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”
Cast our awful solemnity to the winds.
Or the waves.
And join the dance.
In the end, the great danger isn’t being unremembered; it’s being a wallflower, when all of creation is inviting us out onto the floor of our life, for the cosmic dance.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.