Footprints in the sand

I love walking along the beach. Watching the birds flying overhead, the shape of the clouds, the sky as it changes colour. Hearing the waves crash. Tasting the salt air. Feeling the wind blowing, and the sand shifting underfoot. There is something meditative and almost prayerful about it.

This morning as I stepped onto one stretch of sand I noticed that there were no footprints. No one had yet walked here since the waves last washed over the sand. My footprints would be the first to be laid. For a time they would be the only set visible. It struck me as a kind of metaphor, that sometimes there are times in life when we feel like we are stepping out into the unknown, where no one else has been before.

But it wasn’t long, I didn’t have to walk too far, before I noticed a set of paw prints in the sand, and then another set of footprints. And a bit further there was another set of footprints, and then another. And I could follow in the sand where the dog had obviously been earlier, where it had run in circles, where it had dug, where it had run in circles again. My footprints were no longer alone on the beach. Even though at that point in time I was the only person on the beach there were the signs that others had been here before me, others had walked this stretch before.

At the end of the stretch of sand I turned around and walked back, adding another set of footprints headed in the opposite direction. I was leaving my footprints here for the next person to see.

All of the sets of footprints (and paw prints) on the beach this morning were different. Different shapes, different depths, different stride lengths. And although they were all along the same stretch of beach each had followed a slightly different path.

As I returned to the point where I had first stepped onto the sand I noticed that those footprints I had first left had already been washed away. But that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there in the first place. Just like how when I first stepped onto the beach, I may not have been able to see any footprints but that didn’t mean that someone else hadn’t been there before me.

I wonder whether sometimes when we are stepping into something new it can feel lonely and scary, like no one has ever been there before. Somewhere ahead of us, in the distance, we can see signs of people, we know there are others who are doing, or have done, that part of the journey, the part of the journey that happens ‘later’. We might hear stories or know people who have more experience, have more wisdom, have been doing what they are doing for years. But we see them how they are now, we don’t have the same awareness of what it was like, what they were like, when they first started. We forget that, in order for there to be those footprints up ahead, someone else had to have stepped here first. And it can make those first few steps seem scary, as if no one has been there before. I wonder what it would take to remember that people have been there before, even if we can’t see it. I wonder what it would take to know that my footprints aren’t the first. And they also won’t be the last…

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