Monday, December 31, 2012


On a normal Sunday morning, it began when Jennifer looked at me with a spark in her eye and said, "How about a train ride to Scarborough?" Something inside me lit up, and as the two of us told Tyler the plan, he began dancing and immediately donned his red bath robe, announcing, "I will be the boy and the train to Scarborough will be the polar express!"

Two hours later, we had ridden bikes into the city center in a downpour. Soaked and excited, we quickly locked up the bikes outside the train station, offered a granola bar and a Braeburn apple to a man who needed it named Cliff, and then ran towards Platform 5, Tyler's oversized bath robe billowing out behind him.

In Scarborough, the rain didn't let up. After a mile walk down Castle Road--with a brief interlude at Anne Bronte's gravestone at St. Mary's Church--the castle appeared, hunching down as a giant and lowering his hands for visitors to walk through. In the giftshop, we flashed our cards while Tyler tried out some swords, and then tried some crackers with chutney, which he promptly gagged out and onto his shirt and Jennifer's hands.

The next two hours held a slow crescendo of sunlight, until finally a massive rainbow broke the clouds and, as Jen remarked, dove into the ocean beyond the cliff of the castle. We ran and ran and ran--all the while shouting out whatever things came to our heads. We splashed through puddles and tried to wrap our heads around that fact that the castle has existed for a thousand some odd years.

"This is the greatest day I ever had!" Tyler shouted as we ran, and it was hard not to agree.

Leaving the castle, we walked down to the beach and constructed our own. Cold winter sand collected from our gloved hands and rose to form a respectable little tower. We draped seaweed that has washed ashore from all angles of our castle.

The sun slowly made his excuses and ducked out of our day, but not before the thirty-minute-old sand castle and the thousand-year-old stone castle aligned. Looking at them both together from the shore, their sizes were similar. While one would fade with the oncoming waves, in that moment both were just as strong.

In Rachel Joyce's remarkable novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the protagonist slowly chooses to make what began as a brief walk to the post office into a cross-country journey. Harold continually faces the foes of any adventure that involve the feet and the heart--but again and again Harold makes that quintessential choice: to keep going. As he continues onward, he deals with the regrets of his life--and how his past failures as a man, husband, and father have haunted his present. What is most moving about Harold, though, is that his walk is a promise to face what his life has been, and an attempt to remake it over again.

Joyce writes of Harold, "It didn't matter that he had not planned his route, or bought a road map. He had a different map, and that was the one in his mind, made up of all the people and places he had passed." As Harold walks his journey, he slowly learns to become vulnerable--connecting with others in ways that are authentic and nonjudgmental, and learning to view his own past in this light too.

The thing about castles is that we are often so much more fascinated by those that others have built. We may stand at the boldness of their stone walls and gape at the sheer magnificence of them. And this is important.

But what is just as important is making our own maps, too. Pushing the cold sand into walls that slowly rise and reach up towards the horizons in our very own eyes. Just as important is the need to make maps from all the relationships within which we find ourselves--seeking significance not via accomplishments on the grand scale of years, decades, and centuries, but on the grand scale of the human heart--the way in which we empower it within others, and within ourselves.

In the end, waves come and collect all our work--whether within the tide pushing up against the shore to take the sandcastles we build in a day--or the time pushing up against our lives to bring us to a new home.

What lingers longer than ourselves is never the walls, never the castles themselves, but always the love in which we create and cast our visions onto existence. That is what both allows us to endure, and endures.