Shells

shellMy small family recently spent a few days in Florida on a business/vacation trip. One morning, during the vacation part of the visit, we arose early to go “shelling” on a nearby beach. While our 18-month-old played contentedly in the sand, my husband and I casually hunted for the large, ornate shells we hoped the ocean had spit out for us during the night.

Although we found a few large shells, most of them were broken. And the shells were perhaps not as impressive in size or as varied in shape as we had imagined. It didn’t matter much, though: our goal wasn’t to leave the beach with shells, but with memories and a more tight-knit family.

Because we weren’t really finding anything impressive, however, I started running my hands through the sand littering the water’s edge, fishing up the plentiful shells that pricked the soles of our feet as we strode through the water. Powerful waves, determined to grind the shells to fine sand, had already broken and smoothened many of them.

But almost in every handful of shells-slowly-being-pounded-into-sand, I discovered tiny but perfectly formed shells in interesting colors and shapes. Despite their size, I found these small shells, in their half-inch perfection, more fascinating than the large ones we had accumulated thus far.

The lesson is one I have to consciously and continually remind myself of.

As a writer, it’s so easy to become consumed with “finding the large shells.” Finishing—really finishing—your novel. Securing a literary agent and publisher. Hitting the bestseller list. It’s easy to overlook the small shells. Fixing a plot hole. Realizing you’re in “the zone.” Finding yourself smiling when your character says something unexpected.

Don’t we all chase and prize the big shells? The job promotion. The dream house. The perfect vacation? Those are good things, of course. But how often do we, consumed by the hunt for large shells, overlook those small shells of perfection? A spontaneous hug from your child. The sun kissing your face after a week of rain. A surprise visit from a friend.

Perhaps, in the end, those abundant “small shell” experiences will—once combined—be more valuable to us than the rarer “large shell” moments.

And when we do find the large shells and they are not as perfect as we imagined, perhaps we should try to enjoy them anyway.


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