If you are familiar with Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, you know that she begins each reflective chapter with a mindful description of a different kind of shell. She notes the shape, color, texture, and often an imagined history of the shell as a bridge to awareness about her own life.
In the chapter entitled “Channeled Whelk,” she begins by observing that the shell was first home to a snail-like creature—a whelk. A hermit crab was a second resident, its tracks still fresh in the sand. Now, however, the shell is vacant. She briefly wonders why, but then observes the structure of the shell itself:
It is simple; it is bare, it is beautiful. Small, only the size of my thumb, its architecture is perfect, down to the finest detail. Its shape, swelling like a pear in the center, winds in a gentle spiral to the pointed apex. Its color, dull gold, is whitened by a wash of salt from the sea. Each whorl, each faint knob, each criss-cross vein in its egg-shell texture, is as clearly defined as on the day of creation. My eye follows with delight the outer circumference of that diminutive winding staircase up which this tenant used to travel.
My shell is not like this, I think. How untidy it has become! Blurred with moss, knobby with barnacles, its shape hardly recognizable any more. Surely, it had a shape once. It has a shape still in my mind. What is the shape of my life?
What a fine question for the beginning of a new year! What is the shape of my life? And does that match the shape in my mind? And if not, what can I do to bring greater definition, greater clarity, greater intention to the shape of my life?
Most likely, there are ways I have not been particularly kind to myself. Some boundaries about which I have not been purposeful. Some values I have deprioritized for the sake of convenience, or out of sheer weariness. Needs I have tried to bottle up and ignore. Feelings I have judged.
What a fine time to recognize the shape of my life, and to forgive myself for whatever unkind things I have been doing to myself. Apologize for whatever self-neglect or self-harm I have been allowing. Reclaim a sense of ownership over the shape of my life.
What is the shape of your life?
Rev. Randy Partain