Beautifully Broken

Yesterday, I was walking along the beach - Port Saint Joe, Florida. The beach has the perfect sand and the best waves for children and most of the time very little current or undertow to move small kiddos far. But, as I walked, I noticed that it isn’t at all the place for shelling. I’ve always enjoyed collecting shells...

As a child, I wasn’t much into learning about anything other than what we were taught at school, and that, because I had to. Just in case you don’t believe me -


My mom saved some of my school work. Not because it was nice, but just because that is what moms are supposed to do. Recently, I found a box of a few odds and ends from my elementary years. There, in the stack, was a lovely book labeled, “The Five Senses.” I was sure I was going to find beautiful drawings or magazine cut outs and poetic words describing the senses in this most scientific third grade report. I flipped it opened to the first page labeled -  “Hearing”. There they were, two terribly cut out ears. I kid you not, that was the ONLY thing in the report. TWO EARS! I was left handed, so cutting things out in those early plastic scissor years was never easy for me, and I can only imagine that we were supposed to be cutting out grand pictures of noses and ears and eyes and fingers and toes and tongues and teeth and neatly pasting them on each page. Not me, I can’t even imagine what I was doing!

As a matter of fact, the only thing that really impressed me about elementary school is that I went to school with all of my very best friends and that made up our tiny class of ten, and that every day we had two giant recess times (probably to make sure I had worked out all of my energy). Every day, we played soccer, basketball, kickball, four square, jump roped, raced, moved. If I was moving, I was good. 

I did like to read and write. Eventually, that is the only thing that carried me through and not surprisingly, my college degree is a B.A. in English and writing. Reading was full of adventure and imagination. Reading was an escape into wild worlds and other worlds. In the same year I managed to completely botch a report on the senses, I also discovered a book - Shark Lady. It is a book about a young girl that falls in love with the ocean and eventually becomes a famous marine biologist. I was hooked. All I wanted to do was study the ocean. I was going to be a marine biologist!

My Aunt Marti was always listening and watching and, I’m sure, asking my mom about our interests. That year for my birthday she gave me two books. One was a field guide to shells. The other, a book on sea mammals. The girl that could only manage to cut out two ears for her science report, devoured both books.  

My family spent a lot of time at the beach because my dad loved to fish. I started taking my books with me when we went.

I quickly grew a shell collection big enough for my mom to find a small piece of furniture at a yard sale for my shell display. I knew the names of the conchs, the slippers, the keyholes, the snails, the whelks, tulips, augers, sand dollars, cat paws, etc. Did you know there is a shell called a Baby’s Ear? 

I did my science projects on the ocean or water every single time. I built a dam, I managed fish in different environments, I polished shells and experiments with different cleaning techniques. The shells and whales carried me. I was still a poor student, but I had something that drove me, even just a little. Something outside of the classroom that was my own to study and pour over. Something that wasn’t an athletic endeavor.

Back at Port Saint Joe, I was hoping to find a few shell treasures, but everything I saw was broken. Only slivers of pieces. At first I was disappointed, but I crouched down into a pile of debris and started noticing a few beautiful broken pieces. A thick piece of a sand dollar, tiny spunky pieces of coral, a broken baby’s ear, a egg casing, two pieces of sea glass - broken, polished glass, and a few perfectly round small, almost clear clams, two pieces of drift wood, and the most miniature scallop.

They all easily fit into the palm of my hand. I cradled them gently, walked back to the house and laid them out on the picnic table. All I wanted to do was sit and stare. I didn’t want anyone to touch or move them. Finally, I snapped a picture to hold the moment tight and let the arrangement go.

The marine biologists dream exploded. It literally blew up into tiny pieces. My parents marriage failed miserably and as it broke, I broke. I broke so hard, I couldn’t stand to even look at myself. I couldn’t even think enough to spell words right, to work out math problems, to go to school on picture day, to read a book, or even to be a good friend.

It must have been obvious, because everyone that loved me, including my elementary school friends, just loved me more and more. My dad was completely gone from my life. I was devastated. But, the people in my world wouldn’t let me lay shattered all over the ground. They kept up with me, they talked to me, the encouraged me, they told me I was beautiful, and they never stopped praying. All through middle school, my school mates were there and didn’t change the way we played or acted or studied and I managed not to drop the ball completely. My tenth grade English teacher didn’t ask me to cut out anything, but he did ask me to write and read good literature. I did. He told me I was smart and that I could write. He also happened to be my soccer coach. He believed in me. He kept me going. I went on to college and fell in love with learning. I never really cared to be a marine biologist after elementary school, but I still love shells and I even still have my shell book. I actually don’t have it, my sweet Amelia does and she knows all the names of all the shells too.

Now, as I look at the picture of broken shells and bits from the beach, I feel that my life is a pile of the beautifully broken and I’m glad for it.

And from what I can tell from forty plus years on this earth. I am not alone. There isn't one person walking this earth that doesn't have a broken piece. A chip. A crack. A rusty spot. We've all experienced loss and pain. We've felt lonely, afraid, pressured, lost, confused, embarrassed, overwhelmed, ruined. But the truth is, the best part of the story, is that all of that makes you beautiful. It make you unique. You are the only thing like you and because of that, you too, are beautifully broken and I am glad for that too.

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