Monday Stories: Layla

Layla had waited years to see the light. And not just a year or two. Hundreds of years or perhaps even thousands. But in the grand scheme of life for a grain of sand, that wasn’t much. Layla only knew the darkness of the vast ocean’s depths. It wasn’t that she was discontent under the sea where the gentle rhythm of the ocean pushed and pulled she and her companions in a predictable rhythm. Life was soothing and comforting, but dark. The relationships in her life were short-lived but thrilling. She bumped into all sorts of other grains of sand, picking up tidbits about what life could be like when one wasn’t stuck on the bottom of the ocean. This is how Layla heard of the light. 

At first she felt no hurry. She felt that with time the currents of the big wide world would take her where she belonged. She reveled in the stories and tactile encounters as she was pushed here and there against other gritty grains of sand, or sometimes even caressed by the strange sea creatures that roamed the ocean’s bottom. But after time she became more impatient. I’m destined for more, she thought. I’m ready to see the light. She waited. She watched for any sign of increasing brightness, and listened to stories of sand that lived under the hot sun, or sand that was taken from the beach and mixed with a wet glue to form houses, roads, sidewalks. She heard about sand that was taken to homes in plastic bottles, traveling on planes, boats, in shoes and down the occasional shower drain. She heard about sand that was used to build castles as high as any human, and sand that stayed in artificial tanks making a home for fish that swam back and forth, back and forth. Layla heard these stories not truly knowing what any of it meant, as Layla knew only darkness. 

Having no other choice than to wait, Layla waited. Patience was relative for a grain of sand. Layla was patient because she had to be, but in her tiny mind she still felt a calling for something—something other than darkness. This relative patience paid off, for one day after a particularly violent ride across the ocean floor, Layla felt the darkness slowly fade. Mind you this took years, months, days. The light didn’t come like Layla expected. It wasn’t an outburst or the sudden blinding beauty she had maybe imagined. It was a gradual movement from complete and utter darkness to eventual darkness, and then finally the kind of bluish darkness you notice after you turn out the lights—at first you can see nothing, but then slowly the room takes form around you. 

Layla might have cried if she had been capable, but she wasn’t, so she only observed with much anticipated joy. This is the light, she thought. This is my time. Of course, this time of hers stretched again over years, months and days. She spent a lifetime in that sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes thrilling, but mostly rough period where she was tossed and turned, and pushed and pulled by the rather violent shore break. From ocean to beach and beach to ocean, she lived in that in-between world balanced on the edge of the ocean’s darkness and the land’s brightness. But Layla knew it was all part of her path to greatness. And so she waited, and rolled, and was tossed and turned. 

When Layla finally found herself on firm ground she was thrilled. I am here, she thought, warmed by the rays the powerful sun. I am destined for the brightness that I have always dreamed of. But after years of waiting Layla found that life in the light wasn’t so much different than life in the dark. Sure she could see more, and she was often moved about by little hands or stepped on by giant feet. But as she looked out across the expansive beach she realized just how small and insignificant she might actually be. There weren’t just hundreds of grains of sand like her, but thousands, millions and maybe billions. At one point she was picked up, packed tight in the fist of a hand next to many other grains of sand. She was brought up high towards the sky and then packed down to make a small castle by the side of the sea. At this point she thought, look at me, chosen from all these other grains of sand to make such a structure, so high up off the ground. This is it, she thought, this is the greatness and brightness I am destined for. Layla stayed at that point for quite some time. But gradually one after another the grains of sand started to slip and slide down the fragile walls of the sandcastle until finally even she, Layla, lay again on the wide, stretching length of beach. 

Layla felt frustrated, and a bit sad. She remembered the darkness and the comfort of being carried by the powerful ocean. She remembered the faith that she had in finding the light, and the patience she held in her heart. She remembered how she accepted each day knowing she would reach eventual greatness. And now here she was, reveling in the day’s sun and sleeping under a starry sky, yet she felt continued confusion. Why am I still not great? she asked herself.

That night lying wedged between her companions of sand on the flat beach, after being so high up in the sky on the side of that castle, Layla looked up to the stars. To her they were enormous, but as she searched the sky as far as the eye could see, she realized that they too were like grains of sand on a beach of never-ending sky. She wondered if being a star would make her brighter, or greater, or more valuable, but as the moon traveled slowly across the starry sky she realized that stars too were infinite, and their greatness wasn’t in being anything other than a single star in a starry sky. 

Layla slept that night. She slept the way she used to when there was only darkness—in a comfortable, calm, and deep sleep. When she woke from a bright sun that slowly warmed her tiny body and her fellow grains of sand, she looked up at a blue sky, void of any stars. Then she looked across the beach at the millions of grains of sand just like her. She looked out at the infinite ocean, composed of its individual drops of water, its sea creatures and its mineral saltiness. I am great, thought Layla. I am brightness and greatness and valuable because I am a grain of sand. She knew the night sky would be empty without those millions of bright stars, just like the beach would cease to exist without the millions of grains of sand that lined its shores and oceans. And with her newfound greatness, Layla began to live. She lived, she accepted and she cherished— the light, the dark, the crunching, the throwing, the sandcastles. Wherever she was taken she went with joy. For a grain of sand her life was almost infinite and endless and Layla knew this. So from then on, instead of searching for that moment of greatness, wondering if it would ever arrive, or if it had already arrived, Layla learned to find greatness in each moment.