Since you are young, and life is hopeful, and the world feels expansive, and you have nothing to regret, you cannot wish anything more than the future. You may dip your toes into the shallow waters of adolescence, or go wading into the ocean of adulthood, and still run back to the safe, warm shore, shrieking gleefully. You may occasionally sit upon that soft sand and look out onto the glistening blue expanse and sigh forlornly, wanting what is not yours. Your short, chubby arm may find itself reaching out to the sparkling serene waters, as your small, stubby fingers grasp at the horizon, but all is done when the orange sun dips into the water at the sky’s edge. You turn back home and sleep peacefully. You cannot miss what you never had, so your discontented sighs will drift away on the sea breeze, while someone older and wiser leads you home.
However, as many before have learned, and you will know, summer days are short, and those warm nights are shorter. You will wake one morning and feel the chill of an autumn breeze, and look to the shallow rocky pools of adolescence and find they’re pulling you in. You will learn the water there is colder than you thought, and the jagged rocks are piercing. These pools will leave you bruised and scarred. Then, when one day you find you have accepted the waters and you have grown akin to their cool nature. When you have finally learned how to dodge the sharp rocks around you, a storm will brew, and you will be thrown into the tumults of the ocean of adulthood at night.
It is huge and glittering, but it’s lonely too. You’ll think, ‘at least back in the pools of adolescence I know where I stood’. Now you’ll have to learn to tread water. Though it appears simple in the daylight, at night when the harsh storms blow you about and the salty waves push you under where can’t breathe, and it’s so black there isn’t a single light to pull you home, it can feel hopeless. You’ll stare back at the soft, white sands of childhood, where you were warm and safe, and had a place to call home, you’ll find a deep sense of longing within yourself. You’ll tell yourself; your world is expansive and free now. You don’t have to go home at dark. You can be in the waters. You can delve into delights in the depths of the ocean children have never even known! You can say what you want! Do what you want! BE WHAT YOU WANT!’ You will tell yourself a million things, but the back of your head will still whisper, “But you can never go back.”
In the summer of your childhood, you can taste the salty waters of all life’s ages and then run back to where you belong, but in the bitter waves years ahead, you cannot escape, and you can’t go home. You will be beaten, and scarred, used and abused, and often alone. This is where you learn what makes and breaks you. Here you learn to survive. It isn’t living, but it’s close, and if all goes as well, and for your sake, I hope, dear reader, it does, then you, in your due time, will find life gets easier, and waters calm with age. You will learn that though daunting, these expansive waters we sometimes find ourselves in can be invigorating and liberating. You will find where you belong. Then, maybe you’ll turn to see someone swimming beside you who makes your days seem less bleak. You will learn how to survive together, for better or worse. Years will go on, and perhaps you’ll have children of your own, reliving the beauty of your youth through them. You will help them through the jagged rocks in the pools of adolescence, and clean their wounds when they get cut. But when they leave those pools, they must face the ocean alone if they are to truly survive. You will have to let them go through misty eyes, and try as you might to find them, you’ll discover they’ve found their own path. One their parents cannot follow.
Years later you will find the waters have become shallower, and you can see the shore on the horizon. You will struggle to the waters edge. Your body will take a toll for this. You will see the snow-white sands you left long ago, and though you departed as a child, you will return as an elder. Perhaps with your companion in hand, perhaps alone, perhaps they left long ago, perhaps you’re with someone new, or perhaps their hand slipped out of yours as your wrinkled foot touched the soft sand, and the water dragged them back under, this time for good, and you must walk onto the shores alone. Your steps will be shakier, and your eyes may brim with tears, it will, after all, have been a very, very long time since you walked these shores. You’ll smile to the children around you with misty eyes. You’ll feel the sand beneath your toes, and the sun will dry you of your life’s old worries. But your skin will remain wrinkled and pruned, so you can never forget what you went through, and what brought you here. The children may laugh at these scars or simply look away, but perhaps on those kind shores of life you’ll meet a boy resembling your own boy, now grown, now gone, but of many years ago. And he will tug at the sleeves of your shirt, and ask in a soft voice, unbeknownst of the cruelness of the world, of those scars your skin bears, and the stories they hold, and you will give a withered smile, and look up past the vast ocean to the superior vastness of the sky, the only constant you’ve ever know, and you will turn to the boy with a kindness in your voice that only the very old or the very tired can possess; You will take his small pudgy hand into your old wrinkled one, and say,
“Let me tell you…”