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The Promised Pebble

On Keeping Place

One morning in Nice just before sunrise, I lay down my towel and bag in a spot that pleased me on the long expanse of pebbles, just next to a mass of large rocks where the fishermen usually sit. It was a convenient spot, but I could have chosen another. While swimming in the sea, I looked back at the beach and noticed a solitary man in his 60s roaming near my belongings. He was the only other person on the beach, and I rather suspiciously kept my eyes on what he was doing. He had laid down all his paraphernalia by the heap of rocks, including a sun umbrella, but nothing had been opened up or spread out. I figured he was waiting for someone.

Over the next two hours, I would go in and out of the water, and he would keep walking back and forth over the pebbles, occasionally foraging with the tip of his foot. Nobody ever showed up to meet him. I became somewhat annoyed having him roam around me, so I finally got up and left.

Much to my astonishment, as soon as I left, he snatched up his belongings and spread his towel out in the exact spot where I had been. On that beach of thousands of millions of pebbles, as numerous as the sands of the sea, there was one and only one square meter that he wanted. I had inadvertently taken “his” spot and by doing so, completely upset his day. Now, to leave no room for no dispute over this, I have geolocalized this spot at 43.688760 longitude and 7.242681 latitude. Go there yourself at sunrise and you will see exactly what I mean.

How can such behavior be understood? Maybe he is autistic, and therefore obsessed with repetitive habits. Maybe he believes those particular pebbles are promised to him by G-d, to him and his descendants, forever. Regardless of his motivation, we cannot help but find it bizarre.

By comparison, most desire to own property in the form of a piece of land or place to live, and expect this within a country that belongs, collectively, to its citizens. The notion of being able to live wherever we like without anything “belonging” to anyone is like a pipe-dream. If we deconstruct this need, it is not difficult to see that at the bottom of it all, there is fear. It is a fear of lacking resources to survive, and protection against hostile others.

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