As the sand slipped through her fingers, it reminded Nicky how the years had gone as quickly. A young girl teaches her that though the sand can measure the length of her life, it cannot measure the quality.
Nicky watched the sand slide through her fingers and wondered how anyone could have imagined using it to measure time. How had a person known that the tiny grains could represent moments, passing cool and detached through the narrow opening of the hourglass?
She grabbed another handful and studied the three streams as they escaped her grip. That was easier to understand. She'd watched her life slip away, seeping from the top to the bottom, noiselessly and barely noticed.
The last grains trickled through her fingers and she became aware that the sun had begun to set. Sliding downward into the ocean it made its exit more slowly than the sand. The sun, a grain of sand in the vast universe would leave as quietly as Nicky thought the years had done.
She was a very young girl the first time she came to the beach. She remembered the same sand, sun, and water, but she remembered a sense of hope, a promise of life and accomplishments. Tomorrow she would turn sixty and that was her sole accomplishment—she had survived.
"Hi, can I sit with you?" The girl's voice startled her and Nicky climbed to her knees. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. Do you want me to go away?"
"No, please don't, I'm afraid I was lost in thought. Go ahead and sit down. What's your name?" Nicky looked around the beach but didn't see anyone else. "Are you here alone?"
The girl looked confused. "I'm here with you."
"Yes, but I mean…" the girl seemed capable enough, and she probably lived nearby. "My name is Nicole, but most people call me Nicky. What's your name?"
She shrugged as if the question wasn't relevant. "You can call me, Sissy, if you like. What are you doing out here by yourself?"
"Just thinking about things, life, I guess. Take my advice, Sissy, and do everything you want to do. At least give it a try, or your life will be over and you'll have done nothing."
"What are you going to do with your life?"
"Me?" Nicky said, incredulously. "It's too late for me to do anything. I'm going to be sixty tomorrow."
"What if you live to be ninety? Will you go the next thirty years without doing what you want? I'm ten, but what if I was going to die at fifteen, should I just sit around for the next five years pouting?"
"You're not going to die at fifteen." Nicky was shocked at what the child said. She was also surprised at the wisdom in such a young girl.
"That doesn't matter, Nicky. None of us know when we're going to die, so how can we decide when it's time to stop living? What did you want to do when you were my age?"
Nicky looked at her and smiled. She'd asked herself that question many times. "I wanted to write books. I wanted to make up stories about people and places and make them real for others to share." Nicky saw Sissy open her mouth and held up her hand. "I know what you're going to ask. I didn't do it because stuff came up that I had to take care of and there wasn't time to follow my dream. There wasn't money, either."
"How much does it cost to write?" Sissy was sincere.
"Well, writing doesn't cost anything, but to publish something, unless you can find a publisher to pay for it." Nicky shrugged and thought about Sissy's comments. She was right. She had come up with excuses for not following her dream. Was she afraid to fail? "You caught me, Sissy. I always had reasons not to start." She looked out and saw the last of the sun dipping into the ocean. She'd not even noticed that the darkness began to overtake them. "Sissy, you better go home. Your parents will wonder where you are."
Sissy had folded her bare feet under her when she sat, but now she stretched out her long thin legs. "How will you celebrate your birthday tomorrow?"
"I hadn't thought about it. Maybe I'll stay here a few minutes and reflect. Thanks for your advice, Sissy." She watched the girl hold up a handful of sand. The streams seemed impossibly thin and as slow and thick as molasses. The sight mesmerized Nicky and she watched until her hand emptied. "Who are you, Sissy?"
Again, she shrugged at the irrelevancy. "It's who you are that matters, Nicky. The sand will always be here for you to measure the length of your life, but it can’t measure the quality."
Nicky lay back and put her arm over her eyes to think about what the child had said. She knew she had only a short time to walk back to her car before it became completely dark, but she needed a minute.
"Hey, Lady." A voice sounded above her. "You can't sleep here all night. Do you have somewhere to go?"
Nicky looked up a young police officer. She realized she must have fallen asleep and climbed to her feet, brushing the sand off her clothes. "Oh, yes, I do officer. I live nearby. I must have dozed off. Where did Sissy go? The blond girl?"
"I didn't see any kids. Is she yours?"
"No, I thought…." She looked around and didn't see any lights on neighboring houses. "Her parents must have come for her. I'll be fine officer, but could you walk me back to my car please?" As they followed the beam of his flashlight, Nicky saw a set of smaller footprints along the edge of the ocean. She shook her head and wondered if it had been a dream.
"You sure you're going to be okay?" He pushed her car door shut.
"Yes, I'm sure. Tomorrow is my sixtieth birthday and I plan to have one hell of a being born celebration. Thanks officer." She turned to the beach and saw someone waving. "Thanks, Sissy." She waved back and avoided the officer's look as she drove off. With one last glance at the beach, she merged onto the highway. "What a birthday present. She not only gave me the incentive, but she gave me my first short story. Thanks, Sissy."