Well, well, whelk: further thoughts on “shell hash”

early morning
early morning, Hatteras Island NC

Almost a year ago now I posted a a blog post on beachcombing, and my lifelong quest for a perfect, unbroken shell.

While I still would like to find an unbroken whelk, by and large the yearning has dissipated as quietly as seafoam slipping back into the sea. This year at the beach I’ve been asking myself, “What changed?” Why did it become less important to find that perfect shell?”

For me, everything is a metaphor for something else, usually for Life, or spiritual reality, or something else suitably large.So what was the metaphor in this shell business?

I wonder if my nearly lifelong quest for a shell that was beautiful and unbroken was tied to an inner yearning for emotional and spiritual wholeness.

It was myself that I was looking for, that I wanted to find unbroken and whole.

A single perfect seashell might be an adequate stand-in, a reminder that such things do exist, that wholeness is a real possibility.

chair 1 fixNow when I walk the beach I’m drawn to tinier treasures—fragments of broken shells. I love the shapes that these fragments take on as they tumble in the ocean for hundreds and even thousands of years. I love the colors that form patterns on them—the deep purply bands, the dark caramel stripes. They are beautiful. Broken, and beautiful, in a way they couldn’t have been without being worked over by the action of the waves and the sand.

This, too, can be part of the metaphor, perhaps as an image for inner healing. Just as I no longer need to find an unbroken shell, I no longer need to hold on to the possibility of becoming an unbroken self. Like a shell, once the damage has been done it can’t be undone.

It has sometimes felt to me that the goal of psychotherapy and other ways of addressing our woundedness was to make us become what we might have been, had we not been wounded in the first place. There was a hope of somehow regaining a perfect, unspoiled Edenic state of psychological and spiritual wholeness.

I don’t think that’s possible now. We carry our wounds throughout our lives. Just as our physical scars remind us of pain we’ve suffered and survived, our spirit bears its own scars, invisible as they might be — scarrings of the soul that tell the stories of our lives, of what has wounded us, and how those wounds have shaped us.

We don’t need for the scars to be taken away in order to become whole again. (Even after the resurrection Jesus still bore the scars of his suffering, on hands, and feet, and heart.)

Someone once said that spiritual maturity consists of consenting to be where you really are. For many of us, where we are is in the midst of a life that has gashed us along the way. We’ve been pummeled by the struggles and sufferings of life.

But, oh what beauty we can become when life works us over! How beautiful and fiercely strong is the person who has survived much, and still loves the world.

And the shells? They’re no longer an ersatz for finding inner wholeness, but elements I can use in my jewelry crafting in my studio. In a few weeks I’ll post some photos of how I have used them to create earrings, charms, and pendants.

It’s been a wonderful vacation. But I’m also excited to return home to The Beadery, and the flowers, and the life that I lead in the other 50 weeks of the year.

perfect scallop
early morning, Hatteras Island NC

(Oh, and I did find a few unbroken shells after all.)

— Kris Haig at Sadie’s Bethel Beadery

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