I won’t forget those toys in the sandbox, the ones that looked like little compact excavators. A red excavator sat across from a yellow one, and I would sit on one and my brother would sit on the other, and we’d dig.
There’s nothing quite like miniaturized heavy machinery to get young boys excited. Painted and peeling nuts and bolts atop an inflexible spring. It wasn’t hard to imagine riding a bull or manning a bulldozer, all macho and crazy.
The excavators were planted in the sand so that they couldn’t move. All you could do was sit on the sunburned metal seat and swivel, creaking, all the while lifting and dropping the boom to dig sand. You’d dig out a big hole of grainy oatmeal sand, lift and pivot, and drop it in a pile behind you. You’d keep turning like this – back and forth, up and down, loading and unloading – and it was wild entertainment…
…for a while.
I mean, there’s only so much sand you can move.
Because the toy could never be carried to a different part of the sandbox, you’d be forced to dig a hole or, at best, a circular moat, then turn around and dig up the sandpile to refill the hole. Dig, dump, refill. Dig, dump, refill.
Oh, the beautiful, hot, red, rusty excavator. Dig, dump, refill.
I saw a pair of these toys not long ago at a park (these new ones were plastic and freshly painted and actually kid-friendly). While I still thought them pretty neat, they became quickly boring.
The toy itself is fun, but there’s a problem: it doesn’t actually go anywhere. There’s a certain thrill, a feeling of accomplishment after first sitting down, but once you’ve dug and refilled the holes a few times, it loses the appeal. It’s not that it’s monotonous; it’s that it’s purposeless.
I sometimes feel that way.
Not about my place or job or relationships in particular; just about life. I keep digging, but I’m not going anywhere.
Feeling content doesn’t mean you won’t eventually feel bored. Stagnant, like you want to go to a different part of the sandbox, dig a new moat, but you can’t because you’re rocking back and forth on a spring stuck in concrete in the ground.
It’s not at all an unhappiness. It’s more a restlessness. It’s not depression. It’s desire.
It’s the question, “How can I dig deeper?” It’s the feeling, “What am I digging for?”
And then I think, Man, why am I so selfish? After all, feeling “stagnant” in as good of a position as I’m in – good job, great family and friends, safety, security, peace – is a pretty enviable thing. How many people would love to be “stuck” where I am now? How many people would do pretty much anything to be in my place of monotony?
God, forgive my impatience.
And I think, maybe, the day-in and day-out, to-and-fro routine might feel meaningless, but so did that conversation I had with a guidance counselor in school. So did that one song the puppets sang when I was a kid. So did the time I felt real sick, kind of frail and down.
But now I see they weren’t meaningless. They were getting me ready.
So maybe all these holes I’m digging and refilling in the sandbox are preparing me to dig a deeper hole. Maybe I will dig a cave. Maybe I will dig up gold coins. Maybe I will dig to Africa. Or maybe I will just keep digging to the gravel underneath, and the point all along was to teach me patience. Maybe the point is to humble me.
Keeping it real, I hope that’s not it — though maybe not wanting to be taught yet more patience and humility means I need exactly those things! Yeah, I hope that’s not it, but it might be.
And last of all I’m thinking that this — even this — will not last. He is making all things new, you know. New every morning.
To me, the sand looks the same today as it did yesterday. The motions and the metal and the seat and the hole in the ground all feel perfectly plain, perfectly known. But one day I will be excavating solid glass from this sand. One day this will be pulverized to yellow-light crystals. One day I will move, or the ground will move, or heaven will come down, and I’ll know beyond a shadow of a doubt that, today, something is way, way different.
Everything is new. And everything will be new again.
So I’m going to try to enjoy it. Not just be contentedly bored, but really enjoy it.
Because tomorrow my friends might move to Montana, might have a baby, might get hired somewhere far. Tomorrow I might get sick or be well, might go away, might see the sun differently than I’ve seen it yet. Maybe school will happen again, or there will be a promotion, or someone new will come along and change everything about everything.
I hope so.
But I know, then, I’ll look back and want to remember fondly the good days when I was just digging and refilling the same hole in the sandbox. And even now I think it was a mighty fine excavator, and I got good at digging that hole. So I’ll keep at it for now, digging new, new, again and again, because one day, maybe soon, the world will be completely freshly polychromatic, the way it really always was.