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The Beauty in Broken Things

Updated: Oct 10, 2020

The ocean is a special place for me. It washes away my stress and otherwise heals my body and soul. It also gives me perspective, reminding me that there are things much greater and powerful than me. Things over which I have no control. And yet, my body is made mostly of water, so it must possess some of that power. "We are both small, and great." These are the kinds of insights I have when I visit the ocean.

On one of our recent walks along the beach, my partner and I looked for interesting things in the sand. There are many shells, and at first we search for the most perfect ones to bring home as treasures. We pick up many of them, and now our hands are full of shells. My partner keeps presenting me with more, and after a while, I begin to shrug them off because they are all lovely and look mostly the same, and I can't take all of them. I lose interest in the search, drop them back in the sand, and we keep walking.

A little while later something catches his eye, "What about this one?" It looks like a conch shell, but it's hard to tell because it's so damaged. I can imagine a seagull wrestling with the shell, pecking at it furiously with its beak, creating the hole at the top from which it draws out the mollusk, and after having its fill, discarding it in the sand. The shell is cracked in many places, and large sections of it have broken off revealing the spiral center. It is still intact and its natural geometry, is perfect. While the outside of the shell is dry and dull from exposure and erosion, the inside is still shiny and smooth, and preserves all of its miraculous colors and patterns.

"This is the most beautiful thing we've seen today!" I say, and marvel at the shape, turning it this way and that, every angle of the broken shell revealing another wondrous perspective of the mystery inside. I think of how often we devalue and discard things because they're worn down, or a little broken, no longer new, having lost their gleam. I think of how often we accept adversity as tragedy or bad luck; an accident, losing a job, a diagnosis, when these events can often lead to amazing breakthroughs, incite creative solutions, and show us how resilient we can be. It reminds me of the gifts we posses that we keep hidden, or hardly recognize in ourselves.

We continue to walk, and now I'm only searching for only the broken shells. We find more. Each one is unique not only because that is the nature of shells, but because each seems to tell a story in its cracks and brokenness. I bring them home, this small group of broken shells, the new subjects in my drawings and paintings, and I listen to their stories.

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