Sitting in the middle of storm season brings all kinds of things to mind. Have you ever seen the pictures of the amazing structures that existed before the 1900 storm? Huge wooden beach pavilions that stretch into the water. Galveston was such a draw and such an important place at the time we neared the industrial revolution. This was really before recreational swimming was even in the public consciousness. I love to sit and imagine what was going on in the pictures. What were they talking about? How did people speak differently than we do now? How did people see the world, each other, race, gender, religion, and politics? When one of those people in the pictures walked along the sand, did it feel the same to them? Did they see the marine environment differently before recreational swimming became commonplace?
After each hurricane, these structures were re-built, or new ones were added. Thousands flocked to the beachfront and used the buildings. Then they’d be demolished again by the power of the sea. It sounds like there would be considerable debate whether or not to rebuild and, some weren’t rebuilt for some time. But eventually, the economic draw was too much, and they’d put something else there.
This extends to the present. Why do we choose to live in a beach house or rebuild a structure in front of the seawall when you know there is a time limit? If we look back at those incredible beachfront structures from the 1800’s or early 20th century knowing they would only exist for a few years or decades, why spend the energy and resources? Is this wasteful and self-indulgent, or is there something else at work here?
It seems we, as a species, have a tough time thinking past our immediate experience and the short term. We seem to have a baked-in inability to give serious consideration to the long-term effects of our actions. When the population was small, and the world was big, this may have been a survival trait that allowed us to take risks that eventually allowed the human population to flourish.
It also seems that we are capable of incredible optimism. Why did people cross the Bering Strait? Why do we collectively choose to live on this vulnerable barrier island? Why choose to put such considerable resources into a place where there is such a risk of impermanence?
I believe the answer is simple. Because your life is not what you accumulate. It’s the sum of your lived experiences. If you have a deep, meaningful connection to a place that facilitates connection to something bigger than yourself, all the rest pales in comparison. Galveston, for all its many shortcomings, provides this to those who are open to it. The privilege of living close to the ocean is worth the risk and impermanence.
And, at the end of the day, everything we build only amounts to a sandcastle. Sooner or later, the tide takes it all away, leaving just the memory of building it with someone you love.