The Broken Shells

She came skipping across the sand, hand tightly closed around something she’d collected at the surf’s edge, her face glowing with excitement and exclamations jumping from her lips.

“Oh, Mama! Look what I found! You’re going to be so amazed! They’re SO PRETTY!”

She leaned against me. Her skin was cool from the gulf water, and the drips of saltwater plopping from the ends of her braids felt good against my sun-heated arm. She unfolded her hand and beamed with pride.

“Look,” she invited. “Don’t you think they’re amazing?”

In the palm of her hand were two pieces of shells. Broken pieces, with jagged edges not quite yet worn smooth by the tossing of the waves. Of all the shells on the beach – and there were a lot to choose from – these two pieces had caught her eye. Two broken shells.

“Mama?” she prompted, “don’t you love the colors? They look so bright.”

She smiled down at the pieces and gently touched them with the tip of one finger, careful not to damage them, enchanted with the beauty she’d uncovered in the gritty sand.

“You’re right, Beary. They’re beautiful,” I finally said and smiled up at her.

“Will you watch them for me, Mama? I don’t want them to get lost because they need to be in my collection.”

I pulled a plastic baggie from the beach bag, scooped in a couple of handfuls of sand, then carefully placed the pieces inside. “Snug and safe,” I assured her.

She danced away to dare the surf to roll over her toes and I tucked the baggie under the beach chair. I sat, watching her jump and splash and simply vibrate with energy. The crashing waves, the cool ocean breeze ruffling the edge of her beach hat – her every sense was satisfied with the colors and sounds and sensations of the beach.

I looked at that joy shimmering in front of me and I looked at the baggie with its broken treasure and it made perfect sense to me that of all the shells on the beach, she saw the beauty in those two broken ones. That’s just how she is, trying to find the positive, recognizing the good in this imperfect life. I thought how many people had gotten up early to walk the beach and search for perfect shells rolled in on the night tides. I thought how these bits had been overlooked until my little sprite happened upon them, dug them out of the wet sand pressing them down, and declared them beautiful.

I taught her how to do that. It feels like a lifetime ago, but I did that. I taught her how to find all the little things that make life happy and good, things that others might overlook but are really gifts from God. You have to, when cancer comes to live with you. You have to find all the good things in life, all the joy, all the little moments that bring great happiness. It’s the only way to keep going. But then Kevin died and I forgot how to do it. I forgot how to look at my life, our life, and find beauty. All I could see through my tears were the broken pieces, jagged and jutting up, sharp reminders of the pain and loss and loneliness I wake up with each morning.

I’m trying. Between God’s promises and my little girl, I get plenty of reminders that life is still to be lived and enjoyed and, yes, even celebrated.

I reach under my chair and pull out the baggie. I look at the shells again, past their brokenness. Really look at the colors and shapes and texture. And I see what my girl saw. Beauty. Unrecognized beauty. A gift to those who know how to find and appreciate the little joys God gives us each day.

I’m out of practice, but I try.

Cool sand under my sun-hot feet.

The cry of a bird skimming over the ocean waves, diving for a fish.

My daughter’s shrieks of delight rising over the pounding surf.

Broken shells. Broken life.

It’s still possible to find the beauty in both.

My girl says so.

Note: I’ve been trying each day to find a bit of beauty, a little gift of joy. When the grief overwhelms, finding something good gives me a focus and I think Kevin wants me to keep looking for the happy bits of this life – especially the happy bits our girl brings me. To keep me on track, each Thursday I’ll list a few bits of happiness that I recognized and dug out to treasure.

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2 responses to “The Broken Shells

  1. I’ve been watching my inbox, waiting for your words, I was not disappointed. Thanks again for sharing your heart. I feel every word, and feel encouraged to see the beauty in this life we still have to live. I guess its not really living any other way.

  2. Thank you for the kind words. What you say is so true — if we can’t keep on and find beauty in our life, even (or especially) when it’s so hard, we’re not really living — and that’s not fair to our wonderful kids. I’m praying that a bit of beauty finds you today and that it makes you smile.

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