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Every Shell I Find is Cracked, Just Like Me.

The Earth is a storyteller.

Wind, leaves, sand, sky...these are poets and preachers. If I wait and listen, metaphors surge up and call me back to the supernatural. I have done my share of vacillating between doubt and belief. But after this especially long drift, I’m ready to rest on an anchor-secured ship. The rough seas have made me queasy. And just when I feel disconsolate, Nature shares a parable.

I headed to the Jersey shore, alone, to untangle my wild heart. In the fall and winter, Ocean City has no busyness, no summer runners, no bikers balancing Malone’s donuts on the handlebars, no kites dipping and spinning in the sky; off-season is a different kind of getaway. The air has a chill to it and the sky is a soothing gray. Us solitary folks come here to breathe. And when we settle down, we learn something.

A morning cup of pumpkin spice coffee warmed me up for a walk to the beach. Jeans rolled up and winter wear three layers thick, bare feet in the cold sand. No time limit, no agenda, no humans. This was an intentional expedition for my heart. The tide had pushed mounds of shells to the shoreline, they flipped over each other catching their corners on seaweed and sand ripples. Thousands mish-mashed in an eternal, fading line. I was transfixed. With my knees bent and eyes darting about, I was hopeful to sift out a trophy shell. I scoured through the heap obsessively. Black oyster shells, brown clam shells, every size. All these mixed in with the carnage of horseshoe crabs who couldn’t endure the riptide. I brushed my hand over the salt-misted collection encircling me. A whelk caught my eye that appeared perfect. But as I turned it over, I could see the other side worn away by the aggression of the ocean. Another with the tip cracked off. Another with a large hole through the middle. Another, just a spiral top resting on the sand. Even though defaced by the forceful waves, I kept them.

While I picked through the trail of shells, Nature began to communicate. I stood up and stared out at the wide Atlantic Ocean. Farther out than I can see there is a protected space. All these shattered sea treasures were once whole, resting at the bottom of the deepest waters. The voyage to the shoreline bumped and bruised them. I feel just like them as I live on this side of heaven. I’m defaced. Everything is. The Earth itself is groaning to be released from the wreckage. So am I. These treasures are in their marred state too but I try to imagine them un-chipped. And then a thought formulates, “The deep end of the ocean is like the untainted Kingdom of God.” There are no violations there. It’s too far and too dense to swim there. We don’t have access just yet. But we can see evidence of it here, everywhere. As we examine the landscape, there are particles of the Kingdom tucked away. The fall leaves tell us there are unnamed colors yet to come. The star-sparkling sky is massive; it announces there is more. The sound of the symphony is a prelude to the most beautiful combination of notes not yet unleashed. This side is not our home.

Until then, I forage, like a scavenger, to find fragments of heaven here. In their half-state, even these shells tell me there is a New Earth coming. In their half-state they remind me of who I am, a less-than version of what I one day will be. But every once in awhile, I see a bit of my heavenly self. Forgiveness, creativity, humility, adventure, curiosity and compassion. These qualities come from the deep end of the ocean. Even in their substandard condition, they reveal the divine in me. The flawed whelk shell is not our last find. There is much more to come. Though things are not quite as they should be, they are a signpost.

©2020 by Dawn Poulterer-Woods