Shell story

In my offline life, unlike Minecraft, I never find useful stuff on the ground that I can pick up and keep for later. I sometimes pick up litter and very occasionally a 10p piece, but never gold, usable wood or red stone. For various reasons over the last few months I’ve been looking for a nice, big, scallop shell, so when ever I’ve visited a beach I’ve looked around, but never found one. Until today.

Spotting my ideal shell between two large stones, I pulled it out to see that a third of one side had snapped off. Walking away, I was about to toss it aside when I noticed another scallop shell lying almost hidden a few feet away: It was smaller than the first one, but broken too. Surprising they fitted together perfectly, one shell, but still broken. There were no other scallop shells around, so that was the end of any fruitful beachcombing. As I walked back to the remote single track road the beach was beside, I hung onto the two pieces not sure what to do: maybe throw them aside, maybe glue them together, or just keep the bigger bit?. I’d really wanted a whole, complete, intact (and if I’m honest – impressive looking shell that would grab attention). Holding one piece in each hand, I walked on as an idea slowly grew in my mind: just because something is broken doesn’t means it’s trashed.

An image of a broken scallop shell, lying on a rock with the sea in the distance
The broken scallop shell.

This isn’t about reduce, reuse and recycle (although they are good things to think and act on), it’s about – what for me – is a synchronicity of chance events that makes me stop and think. A souvenir that I hoped would be bright and attractive looks broken and worthless. Sometime I think the same about living. What at one point was big, whole, complete, perhaps even impressive, is now broken, hidden and easily overlooked, or discarded by other people. Life, working, responsibilities, mistakes I’ve made, abuses I’ve suffered, have beaten me up, leaving me in bits, lying half buried and ignored in the rocks of some lonely beach. That feeling comes from a particular ‘narrative’ that I have running around my head: that it’s all about success, money, status, the most creative ideas, the best sales, the biggest numbers, the highest score. But, lately a new storyline has slowly begun to emerge.

Over the last year I’ve been studying the ideas and practices of the 16th century Spanish mystic/guru/philosopher, Ignatius of Loyola. His ideas, and the writings of those who followed him, have me reading parts of the Bible in a different way: that it’s is less about a religious scheme (a structured way of doing things) and more about a new schema (a way of thinking and personal attitudes). Part of that new story is finding a deeper value in what others see as worthless. That ‘finding value’ might sound weird, but it’s needs a new set of senses. Image the difference between looking at a scene with and without infra-red goggles: the image is always there, it just need re-calibrated vision to see it.

So, yeah, I’m carrying those broken shell pieces, to others they probably look pretty scabby and unimpressive, but that’s OK, that’s just the way the world left them before I picked them up and carried them away. An intact shell, might have impressed others, but the two shell pieces have a deeper value to me because they tell me a story about myself.

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