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Week 49: "One Grain of Sand"

Daniel Barash

While on vacation in Kauai, it became a daily ritual for me to wake at five, put on my “headlamp,” and step out into the darkness. I would descend the hill that led to the beach, where I would walk as the stars slowly disappeared and the sun cast its light over the vast openness that is the sea. There is something special, even sacred, about witnessing the transition from night to day, and it’s a tradition I hope to continue in my daily life.

Last Friday, as I was waking and walking, I thought through what the day ahead would bring. After my walk, I would bake bread with my daughter, and that afternoon, we would deliver it to a social services organization called Kauai Economic Opportunity (KEO). This local agency began 50 years ago, and is dedicated to identifying and alleviating the causes of poverty on the island. They offer a host of programs, including early learning centers, community mediation, and food programs for the elderly. They also run a homeless shelter in Lihue, which is where we were going to deliver the week’s challah.

In the darkness, a large white van suddenly arrived, and when its passengers departed, they asked where the sandbar was on the beach. After I pointed them in the right direction, I politely asked why they were gathering, and was informed that they were going to participate in a “Rising Sun Ceremony,” a Hawaiian monthly ritual that occurs on the morning of the full moon. After I was invited to participate, how could I resist this unique opportunity to experience the new day?

When the 20 plus participants gathered, the leader spoke briefly about the ceremony. She started by reminding us that though the morning was cloudy and overcast, the sunrise promised to be magnificent in its own way. And just as our own lives can have days that are more cloud-filled than others, we can honor those times and see what we can learn from them.

She then asked us to think about what we were grateful for in the past, and to think about our hopes and wishes for the present day and the future before us. As we were reflecting, I couldn’t help but recognize the continuing synchronicity (see week 48!) that I was experiencing on this trip, for this ritual was taking place during the month of Elul, where as Jews, we are asked to deeply contemplate the year before, as preparation for Rosh HaShanah, when we begin anew.

The actual ceremony involved facing the rising sun on the beach, a few feet from the water, and chanting a short song as the light filled the sky. We then individually entered the sea to immerse in the water and again contemplate the past, present, and future. Again, though different in many ways, the connection to a mikvah, and water's central role in cleansing and renewing, was keenly felt. 

As my feet sank into the soft sand within the water, I couldn’t help but think of how vast the world is, and how small any one individual is. I was reminded of the ancient Jewish teaching by Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha: Everyone must have two pockets, in the right pocket are to be the words: “For my sake was the world created,” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5) And in the left: “I am but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:27) How do we reconcile our importance in the world with the fact that in the scope of things, we are but a grain of sand?...

I think the answer lies in acknowledging the truth in both statements, and ultimately embracing this paradox. Indeed, as I ascended the hill before waking my daughter to bake bread, I couldn’t help but think about Pete Seeger’s take on this teaching, in which he illuminates just how unique and extraordinary every grain of sand can ultimately be…

"One Grain of Sand"
Words and Music by Pete Seeger

One grain of sand,
One grain of sand in all the world,
One grain of sand,
One little boy, one little girl.

One grain of sand,
One lonely star up in the blue,
One grain of sand,
One little me, one little you.

One grain of sand,
One drop of water in the sea,
One grain of sand,
One little you, one little me.

One grain of sand,
One little snowflake in the swirling storm,
One grain of sand,
I’ll hold you close to keep you warm.

One grain of sand,
One leaf of grass upon a plain,
One grain of sand,
I’ll sing it now again and again and again.

The sun will rise,
The sun will rise and then go down,
The sun will rise, 
One little world goes round and round and round.

So close your eyes,
So close your eyes and go to sleep,
So close your eyes,
One little smile, one little weep.