I was as broken as shells discarded by the ocean, crushed beneath the runner’s feet, and deemed by none to be worthy of rescue. Kahlil Gibran, one of my favorite authors, described this brokenness as an important part of growth when he wrote this in his book, The Prophet, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”
It didn’t matter to you if my brokenness was obvious or well hidden under lock and key. It didn’t matter to you how the breaking happened. Only one thing was the object of your attention. You didn’t want to fix me or put a pretty cover over my hurts. You wanted me to see what you saw, a perfectly created, unconditionally loved human being.
Every time we got together, you seemed to be excited to see me. Step by step, I began to see how you saw. I didn’t see myself the way you did, but I began to recognize the extraordinary beauty in others. Then, I began to hear your voice quite the noisy repetitive ones that played the same old messages inside my head.
While on a recent vacation, I rose early to greet the sun. I walked to the beach to collect seashells to take home as a souvenir of my visit. I saw a flower with blooms like I had never seen before. There was a dog jogging happily alongside his runner. There was a woman sitting in meditation undisturbed by anything happening around her. I noticed a photographer clicking wildly trying to capture the perfect moment. A man in a business suit with an envelope held tightly under his arm stopped just short of the edge of the ocean and stood confidently before the day that was about to arrive. There was a surfer who climbed back on his board after each wave knocked him off.
I slowly came into the picture and out of the background. I looked at the ocean acknowledging its might. I blinked at the boldness of the sun. I felt small and insignificant in a big world. I reached down with intentions of picking up the most perfect and beautiful shells I could find, when I saw how many of them were broken. I thought about the day before when we had toured the forts of St. Augustine, Florida and learned that they had been constructed of coquina; which is a rock-like substance composed of broken shells.
These forts stood strong against attack. The coquina stone could not be burned, eaten by termites or penetrated by cannon balls. The material absorbed the shock of the cannon balls! The coquina rock saved St. Augustine, and 300 years later, these structures stand as symbols of how the course of our country’s history was set in motion by broken shells.
I looked around me, feeling the warmth of the moist morning air, the sand reaching as far as I could see on both sides, and allowed an understanding to unfold. This beach enticed many every year to stop and relax, to be regenerated.
That day, I collected more shells than I had ever before. Each one was carefully chosen, because it was broken. I now understood the usefulness of their existence, the strength of their brokenness. The sheer joy their fragmenting brought to others.
Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching, knowingly said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” I am a broken shell, and I am beautiful and strong. I believe every chip in my shell can unfold to a greater purpose than I can imagine.
“When the pupil is ready to learn, a teacher will appear," advises an old Zen Proverb. I am thankful for all that have seen me, not as a broken shell, but as the beautiful person that I am and the unlimited potential of my future.