Thursday, November 03, 2005

Broken Shells

Sunday afternoon my Mom and I were walking on the beach. She was picking up shells to make a wreath. She bent over to pick up one, and noticing its chipped edges, placed it back down, saying, “It’s broken.”

“So are we then” I replied.

My Mom picked the shell back up. It was perfectly rounded around one half. The other half was jagged and had pieces had been chipped away in the current. It no longer had its impeccable symmetry or predictability. It did not flow over an even and structured radius. The right half was sharp, jaded, and bumpy.

Life's experiences often mimic the structure of the broken shell. If we were to cover up the right half of the shell, and solely look at the smooth curve of the left half, we would probably guess the right half follows the smooth curve, making a symmetrical parabola only to find our expectations to be dead wrong.

I think we can all connect with this in our lives. I often think the experiences which serve as the foundations of my past will become prolific symbols of who I become. Inevitably, life throws loops and challenges my way, shattering expectations, and testing my ability to adapt.

I often feel like I am riding the outer lips of that shell. The most critical moment is when I unexpectedly reach the bumps and valleys—my expectations are shattered, my vision of reality becomes simple revelry, and I am challenged to live in a moment I never expected.

As I walked along the beach with my mother, I felt this, and I owned it. My family has seen its share of hard times. I feel like we have been constantly rebuilding. It hurts me to see my family struggle to keep their heads above water. Equally, I have a great pride for the grace with which they have adapted to and made the best of the unexpected contours of the metaphorical broken shell.

None of our lives are perfect. They will never be what we expect and dream. However, when we imagine a better world and do our best to make due with the one we face, things aren’t so bad.

As the sun began to set that Sunday evening, my Dad came onto the beach with my year-old niece and I led her down to the water. She confidently flailed her arms and trounced toward the water. Laughing, I scooped her up and took her to the dunes where my parents were sitting. After wiggling her toes in the sand, she found her first shell. It was perfect. Symmetrical. Beautiful. Her small fingers traced its contours and her fists lifted it into the air to show me.

Watching her reminded me of the importance of looking past tragedy and imperfection. There was a pure wisdom in my niece’s content on the beach—a wisdom that speaks of humanity and imperfection, of being broken and beautiful.