One sunny day I knelt along the shore, entranced by the colors glistening beneath the waves. A man was there, his thinning grizzled hair clinging moistly to his scalp. He sat among the stones, a smoldering cigarette dangling from his cracked lips. As I watched, he reached beneath the water, pulled out a single slick stone striped white and black and dripping still as he turned and stood it gently in the sand. Then he retrieved another—this one mottled magenta and cream—and balanced it atop the first. A third stone he stood on the second, his fingers slowly settling it in place, deftly shifting it slightly here, slightly there until the other stones ceased wobbling, content at last with the weight of this one standing over them.

And as the old man gradually pulled his hand away, I realized that I had become frozen there, the waves lapping at my feet, my eyes glued to that minute rocky monument. And to the shriveled hands that had erected it. Staring quite enviously until a particularly strong wave nearly toppled me into the sand. Breathing again, I settled down as I had seen him do. And like him, I chose my stones with care, contemplating their tones and textures, their sizes and shapes, before applying them to the sand. My monument grew, and unhappy with its minute size, I altered its structure. I set two pillars beside one another and a lintel over them, and on that lofty foundation, I stood two more pillars and yet another lintel. And when it was done, I smiled. And awaited my deserved praise.

The next day I returned to that beach. Wandered to that exact spot. And found my stones scattered by the waves. Disgruntled I knelt in the sand, felt the tiny edges of tiny pebbles cutting into my knees. A cold wave reached me, smelling of brine. When it receded, I picked up one of my stones—my favorite one—and cast it into the waves. Grunting as I stood, I glanced over and was amazed to see the old man’s tiny edifice still standing. Three stones, each a different combination of colors that I would never have found suitable. Three distinct sizes and shapes, with corners and curves I would have thought vulgar. Yet they withstood the waves and the winds and the crumbling sands. Together they were perfect.

I was old by then. Not as old as he, but old enough to recognize the hands of a craftsman, the shoulders of a builder, the eyes of an artist. And I know what I had seen him do. While I tried to deny it for sometime, eventually I became resigned to the truth. So I stopped. I ceased erecting those ridiculous monuments to my own arrogance. And envy. But I do still return to that shore. Eager now to do so. To catch a glimpse of his latest musings. Of three unremarkable stones, disparate pieces made whole by his gentle touch.

No good reason for this, perhaps. I just wanted you to know why. Why it had to be like this. Why this had to end.

Salt Lake City 12 Dec 2012