Even though a shell is just the hard outer layer that is meant to protect the animal that lives in it, the hunt for the perfect seashell is a beach standard. On most trips to the beach people go to the edge, put their feet in the water, and look down. They see shells being washed up right at their feet. Before they have time to do an appropriate survey of which shells are the best for keeping, the surf whisks them right back out into the ocean. Sometimes people get lucky and snag a shell before the inevitable happens. If it is a perfect specimen, they feel fortuitous. More often than not the shells that wash up are broken. Shells that are shards of what they were. And when you think about it, shells are just shells in the first place. They are incomplete compared to what they once were: a living being. Now, they are just what remains after the life is swept away.
Humans have shells too, but much different kinds of shells than marine life. Human shells are intended so that no one can do damage to the insides. People do things that hurt our feelings and make us feel less than human. We wear our shells to protect us from those things. Our shell might have too much makeup, it might take illegal substances, or it could make a joke out of anything that hurts. Just like seashells, this does not always protect us. Sometimes what is inside dies. Sometimes we just can’t ensure and all we have left is a shell. We all endure hardships. Some endure tragedies. But when we are left with a shell, things get complicated. Humans might push people away because the ultimate fear of a “shell person” is that someone might get too close and discover that what was once in them withered up and died. Human shells serve as a distraction to the real problem.
This trip to the beach I wasn’t worried about the perfect shell. I wanted to find the prettiest shell. I discovered that the prettiest shells weren’t whole shells. The prettiest shells were the broken ones. Those shells probably had more of a story to tell than those shells that were still mostly intact. The broken shells had learned lessons that the whole shells hadn’t learned. Those shells had “lived.” People are just like those shells. By dismissing the people that might not have the prettiest past, or have made mistakes, you miss out on the greatness of life. The greatness of humans is that we all don’t lead a cookie cutter existence. Instead we help others by spreading light into a path that you might not have crossed otherwise. People are made great by their stories. People are made great by being broken and living to tell those stories.
A seashell can’t tell a story to us, but it can teach us to look beyond faults. We can look past the cracks in other people and see who they really are. When we can do this, I like to think that unlike the sea counterparts, the shells that are human can come back to life. They can start loving and living again. See potential. See the light. See life.