seashells

It Only Takes One Stomp

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I have been so blessed to spend a week of winter down south where I need not wonder if the sun has died (which I do frequently in Indiana in the winter).

There is something primal about walking along the beach – the sound of the surf and seagulls; the rhythmic pull of the tide as it washes in and out.  On Marco Island, the beach has so obviously been formed by the grinding down of shells over time.  It creates the sand on which I am able to walk.

And yet, as I walk, I see and hear the crunch of feet upon the shells.  I love to collect shells.  They are astonishingly beautiful on the island.  But often, as I reach down to pick up a shell that looks stunning, I discover it has been crushed… the victim of stomping feet.  It feels, to me, to be a sacrilege.  Shells are formed by a mollusk for protection.  Interesting, isn’t it?  As children, we learn to form a “protective shell” around ourselves as we go out into the world and people thoughtlessly “stomp” on our thoughts and feelings, right?  So, too, the soft mollusk creates a shell to protect itself from the dangers of its environment.  The color and texture of the shell is determined by the environment in which the mollusk lives.  Shells down south have more color because warmer waters provide a more versatile, colorful ocean diet.  (At least that’s what I read on the internet!) 

One website I read indicated that the shells that wash up on our shores could potentially be hundreds or even thousands of years old.  Even after the life of the mollusk that originally constructed the shell comes to an end, other sea creatures often move inside.  Perhaps think of this as the cycle of a senior care community.  As someone in independent living experiences a change to their health, they may need to move into assisted living or nursing care.  They were guaranteed a space when they moved into the community.  But, someone will need to vacate (one way or another) before they transition into their new space.

But, getting back to my walks on the beach…

Down comes the foot.  I’m sure no one is purposefully destroying the shell.  But, people are jogging, talking (sometimes doing business on their phone… a sacrilege in and of itself!), just daydreaming, perhaps even (ironically) meditating/praying.  The step is taken, the foot comes down, and the shell is crushed to pieces.  All that beauty – broken, crushed, ground down… and so quickly.  What the ocean “housed” in its watery womb for hundreds, even thousands, of years, is destroyed at the pace of one human stomp. 

What a metaphor for life.

We spend our lives getting built up and torn down, don’t we?  If you were fortunate to have a loving family, you may have developed a softer shell.  If your family made love conditional, you likely developed a sturdier shell as a means of survival.  But, no matter how calcified, no shell – no life – is immune to destruction.  And, like the feet on the shoreline, many of us don’t even notice our “stomps.”  We are not setting out to crush, or even chip, someone else.  We just aren’t being attentive or careful.  We move through life rapidly.  After all, there is so much ground to cover, right?

We stomp on so many, don’t we?  Our spouse/partner, our children, our co-workers, family, friends, even those who rely on us for care and support.  A critical word spoken hastily, a fleeting glance of disapproval, a sign of disappointment, a “dig” cloaked as humor. 

It is the human condition, a relational inevitability I suppose.  But I still grieve for the disregarded beauty of those broken shells.  And, I must pray and repent for the disregard of my own “stomps” which have crushed and chipped the beauty of those around me.

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