Walking down to the Gulf shore was the first thing for me to do in the morning. I spent as much time as I could on the beach, and watching others enjoy the sea was also part of the fun.
We would stroll along, and some of us were nonchalant about our search of shells, driftwood and other treasures. Others would take a few steps, bend over, look closely and pick, choose, sort through and toss aside those not just right.
Gathering our prizes was an art, we believe, and each of us has a different technique. Some of us were very discriminating. I also looked for the little shells — perhaps because I am very short; and the little ones seemed to be overlooked, and many times they were the most perfect.
Now that I think further, it makes sense that when we find a perfect specimen of anything we exclaim, “Oh look at this one!” We do this with people and put them on platforms and pedestals for all to see, and we marvel at their perfect faces, bodies and feats of strength and athletic ability until — they do something that disappoints, and then they are tossed aside like damaged shells we sort through at the beach.
How discriminating we are in evaluating shells as well as people. We have no use for the broken one in a culture that prizes perfection. Our bodies must be slim and molded to a certain standard. We spend billions on cosmetics and clothes to bring ourselves to the mythical standard we know is valued.
To succeed — to make a mark — to be somebody — to win the trophy is part of the perfection image as well. We value the extraordinary effort. We want people to portray a life that is balanced with no problems. We overlook the average. Average seems ordinary and downright boring.
The man or woman going to a job, raising a family, paying their taxes and attending a house of worship are not worthy of attention or scrutiny. Like a worn or less than perfect shell, they don’t draw attention. They will be the “filler” in our display jar.
Yet these shells and average people are who we are.
What we try to ignore or pretend we don’t see is that we are all damaged, broken gifts from the sea. We need to see ourselves as part of the community of the “less than perfect.” About the imperfect ones of us, the flawed ones? We are uncomfortable and like our own deaths, we try to ignore or pretend or don’t see them or toss them aside.
We must understand that to accept being less than perfect is the only way to have peace. If we cannot see the value in the broken shell, the beauty beyond the damage and scars, then we cannot truly see ourselves, nor value ourselves or others.
A broken shell has great value. It tells the story of its completeness before it ran into rough seas and rolled and scraped its way to the shore. It ran into life and suffered pain. It is no less imperfect than we are — injured and perhaps broken to such an extent that we will never be the same. But we have the same value as before.
There is so much relief in knowing we are not perfect or ever will be! We feel a calm descend, and our life truly begins when we can forgive ourselves for not meeting the cultural standard set by others. We can say, “This is who I am,” and start to enjoy life. We can gain compassion and understanding for others. We see them with flaws and see nothing but value and beauty.
Let us see the whole little shell and value the wholeness of us all.
Nedda Simon of rural Princeton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.