An Imperfect Shell by Rick Binder
The other day I went spearfishing for the first time in a very long while. Essentially it amounted to snorkeling while holding a six-foot loaded spear-gun with a hair trigger in murky water with high swells. Not the smartest decision I've ever made but I felt manly, and sometimes in life that's got to be enough. The best chance I had to actually shoot something was immediately after I threw up after swallowing seawater and getting tossed about by the waves, but by then I was too queasy. As I made my way back to shore I realized that I was once again awed by the shear power of the sea, and memories of my childhood popped into my brain.
I recalled that as a boy I collected seashells on those rare occasions when our family went to the beach. There were hundreds and hundreds of seashells along the shoreline, but the only ones I would take were the rare ones I deemed to be perfect - no chips or imperfections. The rest were, I thought, unworthy of being in a collection because of their obvious flaws.
I'm much older now. I'd like to believe I'm significantly wiser. I can admit my mistakes, and I've realized that I went about my shell collection all wrong. It wasn't the perfect shells I wanted. The thing about nature is that - apart from their size - a clam shell is a clam shell. Perfect ones all look the same. The chipped and damaged shells are unique in their imperfections. No two are exactly alike.
So too with people. It's those imperfections that help define us as individuals. Dozens of quotations come to mind at this point, but the one that rings the most true to me is "The hardest steel is forged from the hottest flames". The best swords with the strongest blades have been repeatedly heated up to be maleable and then pounded with a heavy hammer, then thrust in cold water.
I believe that the people who have found themselves in difficult situations and who have come out with their integrity and morals intact are some of the strongest people around. The ebbs and flows of life - much like the continuous pounding and crashing of the waves against the sand - serve to polish and refine us as individuals. Eventually the sharp edges of our personalities are smoothed out and we become better versions of ourselves. We are more centered, more "in the moment" and better able to handle the rough patches and appreciate the beauty of life. We begin to realize what's truly important, and it becomes clear that the meaning of life is not about the material possessions we can accumulate but rather the quality of the people and the relationships we can develop and the memories we retain.
It's taken me nearly 48 years to figure this out. While that seems a very long time, there are many people I know who've yet to realize this and they are much older than I. There are many people out there who will never understand this, and I know several of them to be generally unhappy and unpleasant. As several of these people have all the money they will ever need it reinforces my point that life - or rather happiness - has very little to do with money or material possessions.
As we make our way through this journey called life we - the lucky ones at least - begin to appreciate the little things. I've come to realize that these little things - my integrity, my health, close friends and family to name a few - are the reason I get up in the morning and smile through most of each day. I know I've got people in my corner who are there for me whenever I need them to be. I've lost a great deal of material things over time through my own stupidity, divorce, the economic challenges of the past few years or just bad luck, but I'm happier than I've ever been. I believe the Buddhists refer to this as Kensho - an awakening. This is a first step - a glimpse - on the path to enlightenment.