Sand Between My Toes

The small card fell out of a pile of papers. It was an old photograph, nothing special, a tiny fishing boat crossing a calm ocean underneath a blue sky. I don’t know how it got there, but I smiled as it triggered memories of my younger years playing by the seaside, feeling the sand between my toes, collecting shells with my neighborhood friends, and seeing who could throw stones the farthest out into the waves.

I grew up in a small fishing village in southern Taiwan. The narrow lanes and simple houses were crammed into a small sliver of land that jutted out into the sea as a peninsula, with the harbor on one side and the deep, wide ocean on the other. During my teen years, I lived in a tiny upstairs room. From its single, wood-framed window, I could see the harbor light at night, and the boats returning with their catch the next morning.

My family was poor, and we lived a very simple life, but I didn’t realize how rich I was in the things that really mattered until many years later when I was working as a volunteer in Japan. It took a drive of several hours from the crowded and busy city where I lived at that time to be able to smell the salty air of the sea.

One day, our team visited an orphanage, and I got to talking with an 18-year-old resident. Out of the blue, she asked me if I had ever been to the beach. She told me that she had never been there and that it had always been her heart’s desire to have a chance to play by the ocean, to feel the sand and the small waves lapping against her feet. I had to excuse myself and ask for the restroom, as I didn’t want to cry in front of her.

There have been times when I prayed and wished for this or for that, thinking it would make my life’s journey easier and happier. But the answer to my prayers and wishes has often come in the realization of how blessed I am and how much I have to be thankful for.