The Story of the Shells

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On the left hand corner of my desk in a small, glossy, eggshell-colored bowl, rest a pile of shells. These shells are remnants, pieces of larger shells, worn down fragments that tumbled and swirled along the ocean floor for months, years, decades maybe. They are flattened like Play-Doh, smooth like stones. They are striped in layers, like sedimentary rocks. I picked them up where other shell seekers had left them in the sand while they searched for the pretty, the unique, the whole.

But I love these pieces. The smooth remains of something beautiful and broken.

I hold them, rub their grooves, warm them in my palm while I puzzle over a problem in my writing. They jingle in the bowl as I search for the right one. The one that might unlock the solution. The cat sometimes paws them, enjoying the sound they make against the bowl. Occasionally he succeeds in sneaking one out and over the side of the desk skittering it down the hall with Pelé like precision until I rescue it once again.

I work my stories, scenes, characters over like these shells. I smooth them, reduce them, expose their layers, until the stories, the scenes, the characters are beautiful and broken for the reader. Or at least I hope I do. That is the goal. To take what was once a whole and living thing and whittle away until I find the one truth of it that can fit in your hands and rattle in your pocket.

The whole shells are beautiful. They are treasures and worth our admiration, awe, display. The whole shells are our whole lives. Complete, perfect in their living.

But the truth of our lives lives in the details. In the nicks, the chips, the strange colors, and occasional barnacle attached.

I’m in search of those fragments, those bits of shells we shed or hide or try to forget that hold the lessons the oceans teach: rest and let go. Let the ocean carry it to a safe place, polish its edges, expose its layers, deliver it to the shore. Then wait for someone to pick it up, admire the flaw, and tell the story.

The Weight of my Son

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My son stands in the surf regarding the horizon. His face is calm as he receives the waves, the wind, the sun. The lip of the ocean kisses his toes, embraces his ankles. He looks so small against the stretch of sand, the girth of the Atlantic, the enormity of the horizon. But there he is. Two legs, two arms, strong torso, blonde hair short but still tousled by the breeze. He is a piece. A piece smaller than the world but larger than the grains of sand under his toes. A part of the whole. He has touched the Earth, tasted its salt, felt its caress. He is my world wrapped in the blanket that Mother Earth provides. He is strong. He is smiling. He is mine. He is hers. He is here.  He has yet to make his mark, to consider his steps. For now he runs, he kicks, he plays, he breathes. He is free. I watch him in wonder and envy, remembering the safety that freedom provides before the reality and the worry and the routine colored my view of the same vista. He stands singular and becoming. A promise I made to the world. One day, many, many years from now, when he is grown and gone, the world will be older and different in some small way because of him. And somewhere, tumbling about in the ocean, there will be a few grains of sand that remember the weight of my son.