While walking along the shore, I happened upon a sand castle. It seemed to have been made with loving care; intricate designs scalloped into its surface. Only the best sand had been used to make this castle. Cylindrical turrets stood sentinel along the mighty fortress wall and in the center loomed a stately tower. Little windows were carved in a couple of centimeters so that one might pretend to see inside. I planted myself a few feet away from the sandy manor, rolled onto my tail bone, wrapped my arms around my drawn-in legs, rested my chin on my knees, and imagined sweeping ceilings lined with crown molding, marble pillars, and intimate trinkets lining handmade shelves and cases.

I dreamed of enormous ballrooms with brilliant chandeliers and private quarters with crackling fireplaces and cozy down comforters. Perhaps the tower housed an octagon-shaped library with one of those attached rolling ladders, each wall book-lined from floor-to-vaulted-ceiling. Except, perhaps, for a large bay window kissing a cushioned cubby seat where one could curl up with whichever fruit of literature was picked from the surrounding grove of paper, glue, and weathered bindings.

I couldn’t image anyone leaving this beautiful place empty, alone, deserted. I wanted to crawl inside and find my own candle-lit nook or cranny where I could fall asleep with shadows dancing along the walls to the surrounding ocean’s symphony. I’d lost complete track of time and space, drifting into my imaginary world, not even noticing the tide gently rolling over my ankles, lapping at my hips. Until, that is, it broke violently through my castle walls, threw down its turrets and revealed the mud and muck inside. Startled, I shot up, my sopping clothes clinging uncomfortably, coolly now, to my clammy flesh. The tide had changed with the setting sun and with it, tumbled my fantasia. Distraught by my washed-up dream, I trudged on home.

The next day, I returned to that place anticipating mourning for my fantasy lost. Instead of finding the expected ruins of my dreams, I found a child with a pail and shovel.

I think people treat each other too much like pretend palaces on the shore—building each other up in our minds from a safe distance, losing ourselves in the could-be’s and might-have-been’s. Too often, we count each other revoltingly lost when the cascading tide of revelation rolls in. Honest disclosure leaves us disillusioned by the mottled truth.

Yet, we’re all susceptible to the tides, really. Isn’t that the truth revealed? That no one is perfect, not even one. Isn’t that what we’re afraid of in the end? Aren’t we afraid that if our fantasies can crumble, so can we?

So we watch them with longing from arm’s length, afraid to get closer, terrified to move any further away, lost in the in between. Then, once we get comfortably numb, familiarity creeps up on us like the rising tide and comprehension breaks through the withering walls of our conscious. The spell is broken and reality rushes in.

What happens next is crucial. Do you run away? Do you stand your ground? In the face of the gritty truth, what do you do? Too often we turn our backs on the untidy authenticity of real relationships. Not often enough do we return to the scene of the crime for the chance to embrace the wonder and complexity in the simple truth that reality is complicated. People need second and third and thirty-third chances. We need to be broken down and built up time and time again. We need to be brave enough to immerse ourselves in the mess and know that we are all fallible, but not without hope. We have each other.

Who wants to go to the beach?