King: The sand fight

Aug 28, 2017 by

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One cousin was already at the beach. When the other topped the dune and they spied one another, both galloped across sand and their different ages, 3 and nearly 5, arms outstretched.

Michael A. King


It was a thrill to watch, this pure delight.

Then they met. She yanked off his hat. He hurled sand in her face. They probably both meant more to tease than assault. Yet in seconds they were tussling, mutually enraged. Grownups ran to separate them. Screams of anger and pain burst forth.

Sorrow flowing. Delight drowning. So lovely. So quickly so nasty. Just those few moments, yet within them lurked the human condition writ large. We thrill to companionship. And constantly we scan: Is our share of love, voice, justice, place in the community safe?

As the beach fight raged, it pointed mostly to the usual work of growing up. But it also became a microcosm of the nuclear furies world leaders threaten, the claims to “blood and soil” with which some assault those they believe to be stealing it, the growing inability of adults, including the most powerful one in the world, to do better than yank hats, throw sand, egg on violences of mind, spirit and body.

It still hurts to remember the sand fight. Not because the combatants were terrible; they were acting their age. After grownups reinforced the norms of civilized behavior, they didn’t forswear battle but could often be spied whispering under a blanket, sharing books, even cuddling. What hurts is how quickly the joy fizzled, a cloud spreading over that sun-drenched beach precisely as beauty raced toward fulfillment.

What hurts is that the image of missing each other precisely when on the cusp of finding each other seems to capture our current national and planetary condition. There is so much to be awed by, so much wonder crying out for attention, so much human yearning to embrace the other and challenges of the day before the planet shuts us down. Yet the thermometers measuring our hate and Earth itself show temperatures soaring as we yank hats and throw sand. This is why in the Aug. 14 issue of The New Yorker, Robin Wright asks, “Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?”

Extrapolating from children is dangerous. But I wonder what might have happened if adults had egged on instead of pacifying the cousins. And I find myself asking what adult intervention looks like when the grownups themselves regress to childhood. How far does the hate spread? How many casualties are suffered? What finally enables combatants to recapture their vision of delight long enough once more to pursue it?

When Adam and Eve lost their way in Eden, God warned of trouble ahead and that an angel with a flaming sword would bar their return. But next, Genesis reports, they made love, setting in motion the births of Cain and then Abel. No return to Eden here as soon they rolled in the sand and Abel was dead. Still, the ending of Genesis 4 reports, Adam and Eve made love again, Seth was born, Seth had son Enosh, and “At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.”

Now we fumble toward the next chapters in our and (we pray) God’s story. I wonder if it’s precisely when we honor a story larger than our own — which is what adults intervening in the sand fight called for — that we grow back up and into delight.

Michael A. King is publisher and president, Cascadia Publishing House LLC, and blogs at Kingsview & Co.

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