I’ve been moving waaaay too fast recently and I seriously needed a minute to stop and watch the world go by me rather than trying to run circles around it in stupid Cindi-fashion. Lucky for me, on the last leg of my group tour, we were at Progreso, a sleepy beach town on the Gulf of Mexico, and few things offer a hard reset button quite like a solo sunrise walk on the beach or three.
And a funny thing happens when you give your brain room to aimlessly wander along with your toes in the sand rather than forcing it to constantly work and plan and remember and strategize… You come up with some Jack-Handy-quality deep thoughts that are as surprising for their clarity as they are for their sneakiness in turning ordinary things into “a-ha” moments that keep you thinking long after the epiphany passes.
Take seashells, for example. Stick with me on this one…
Our beach house had a path down to the most desolate part of Progreso’s sprawling playa - a stretch that seemed to go on forever with nothing but washed-up seashells, pelicans diving for fish and the occasional beach dog that ambled by in search of breakfast.
Every morning it felt like a treat to launch myself out of the house as early as I could manage it to hit the beach alone and wander.
There were a few locals who did the same - an old man who scoured the beach for bits of plastic he could sell while his dog, Wally, charmed strangers for scratches, and there was a friendly Canadian yogi named Jay who has to muzzle her precocious dog, Trixie, because of her obsession for digging up crabs and having cage matches with them. There was also the playful beach dog that tried two days in a row to steal my walking stick so we could play.
But I needed that stick because I was using it to scratch through piles of seashells looking for treasure, and while this was no Sanibel Island, there were some pretty shells to be had. Which brings me to my unexpected epiphany.
If you’ve ever hunted for shells, you know it can be competitive - for the shells anyway – if not for the people scouring the surf for them. In our minds, the next pile on the beach always has something more beautiful, more interesting, more perfect – and my little plastic bag became a revolving door of shells as I upgraded to better finds.
Some of the shells I thew back were pretty – really exotically pretty – but they were damaged in some way, and I couldn’t see keeping them when there were other shells that, while perhaps less interesting, were in perfect condition. Chipped edges, broken bits, holes ground in by pressure and time all marred many of the beautiful shells I threw back to the surf, and I wondered at what a shame it was to have something so pretty be so broken and, ergo, uncollectable.
And like a canny, impish interloper, the epiphany came. Am I not one of these shells? Maybe beautiful and perhaps interesting from a distance but a little bit broken or, at least, decidedly imperfect thanks to the rolling surf of my existence? Chips, cracks, broken bits… it’s all part of the story. I thought about the same for the men I’ve wanted to know in my life. Perfection – what is that? It’s an illusion and it definitely isn’t interesting. Perfect shells – they are empty, abandoned, without character. Whatever lived there left long ago, and their ride to the beach wasn’t fraught by tumultuous waves and life-changing impacts – it was a soft landing with seaweed cushions and ladies with sticks to turn them over. Sure, the shells look pretty, but is that why they are beautiful? Maybe, if pretty is all you’re looking for.
Aaahhh. Mexico – you vixen. I’ve been thinking about this WAY more than I expected to be – all my thoughts tied up in the analogy of beautiful, broken shells and arguably beautiful but entirely less-than-perfect people – of which I am one of them. I think we all are.
When we demand perfection and nothing else, are we really just excluding the most beautiful things in the universe from our lives? Does a seashell with broken edges and a hole or two represent the absence of beauty or hint at its magnificent journey?
I’m not talking about shells that are fractured in half with with barely recognizable, albeit fragmented, beautiful, pieces. Avoid that because that shit is *broken*. LOL. No, really. You don’t want that.
But the rest – maybe there is some room for grace to embrace the imperfect “keepers”. Perfection is sexy and we could look forever for it. But way more sexy is a deep, intractable craving for a person who, however imperfect, sees your dark bits and loves them, and brings your best parts into the light to celebrate them for all their imperfect glory.
Yup. I’ll take that. And I did actually walk back along the beach to my starting point collecting a few of the shells I’d cast off earlier. I’ll take imperfect and interesting over perfectly beautiful and vacant. Every day.
Thanks, universe, for the slap in the head.