The changing nature of the world around us is refreshing and reassuring. Those who wish to live forever would look at these changes with some trepidation and pessimism. However the fact remains that all living things play their earthly role within a fine balancing act before fading away without disturbing or depleting the intricate tapestry of nature.
We live in an ever-changing world. The study of the cosmos tells us that even the universe has been changing. It is expanding and hurtling towards oblivion ever since the Big Bang 13-odd billion years ago. Scientists also tell us that such a cataclysmic phenomenon has been repeated countless times in the cosmos. In our limited capacity, however, we are unable to fathom the nature of time and space. Close to home we are still learning about our world and its oceans.
For many of us a beach walk awakens a metaphysical connection that we have with the sea
It there were no death, there would be no renewal and no resurrection. The very thought of a static and unchanging world makes me shudder. The world would become extremely crowded and every scrape and every mark on the face of the Earth would remain for eternity just as the craters on the surface of the moon that have been there for eons.
A walk on the beach brings into sharp focus many of the certainties and uncertainties that we face in life. Playful children building sand castles and couples strolling along the shore leave their amusing and pleasing marks on the sandy canvass only to be washed away by the endless rhythm of relentless waves. Each receding wave leaves behind a smooth and glistening surface, inviting yet another castle and another set of footprints. It probably happened on a gigantic scale in the cosmos but we can’t know that. This ebb and flow of sea, however, unfolds a bit of the vast world that exists under the waves: a piece of a seashell, gnarled seaweed or a lonely starfish.
While making my temporary footprints on the sand, I often look for perfect seashells. Occasionally hidden among the saltwater debris, I find them. They remind me that all of them were, at one time, part of a living creature. They served a purpose, moved on and left behind their ornaments for us to look at, enjoy and ponder.
For many of us a beach walk awakens a metaphysical connection that we have with the sea. Four hundred and forty four millions ago we crawled out of the deep blue as primitive marine animals to continue our climb on the evolutionary ladder. Perhaps in the deepest recesses of our primitive brain, we still have vestiges of an encoded memory of that early evolutionary life. Seashells are part of our family tree, and a walk on the beach is really a walk through our remote past where another world, the world within the ocean, reaches out and touches our feet.
Perhaps it is our own transitory nature on this Earth that fuels our quest to understand the links between the present and the past. Like the mysterious shells on the beach, when we come across a shard of pottery we wonder what that piece represents: a cooking pot, a drinking vessel, and a pitcher? When looked at with the wide-eyed curiosity, the small fragment assumes a much bigger place in our psyche. Just like seashells, the pottery fragments also link us to our past and so do fragments of an ancient bone or skull unearthed by wind and erosion in a ravine in Africa. What did Lucy, the first biped hominid to walk on land 3.2 million years ago in Ethiopia, think when she drowned in her watery grave? In her case it was not ashes to ashes and dust to dust but water to water.
While on the beach one early morning I was deep in thought looking for shells when I heard a kind voice, “Are you looking for gold?”
“As a matter of fact, I am,” I told the kind lady, “I am collecting seashells for my granddaughter Hannah. Once she understands how intertwined humans are with the sea, this will be worth more than their weight in gold.”
In the massive scheme of evolution, we humans are but a small cog, albeit an important one. Like time, the process of evolution marches on uninterrupted and unabated towards an elusive biologic perfection. In the mean time some of us and our coming progenies will continue to search for perfect seashells on sandy beaches and try to piece together the beautiful mosaic of life.
All photos by the author.
Dr. Sayed Amjad Hussain holds Emeritus professorships in Humanities and cardiovascular surgery at the University of Toledo, USA. He is also an op-ed columnist for Toledo Blade and daily Aaj of Peshawar.
Dr. Sayed Amjad Hussain is an Emeritus Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery and an Emeritus Professor of Humanities at the University of Toledo, USA. He is the author more recently of A Tapestry of Medicine and Life, a book of essays, and Hasde Wasde Log, a book of profiles in Urdu. He may be reached at: email@example.com