I’ve been collecting shells on the beach. Usually I like the pristine ones, I marvel at the mother of pearl shine on the inside, the varied patterns or the bright white washed surface on some species.
But today I found myself looking out for something different. There are those shells called Buccinum undatum which often don’t make it to the beach in one shape. Yet there are many broken ones and those are the ones I felt drawn to. My search – it was not really a search as there are many lying around – presented me a collection of very different shapes and stages of brokenness, and to me each one of them revealed an exquisite beauty. Back at home I felt like a treasure hunter, emptying my sandy bag with a sense of joy and curiosity, looking forward to inspect each finding even closer.
Quite a while ago I found one of those white washed, broken shells and took it home. It was sitting on my desk for a long time. The shell represented a phase of life I’ve been in. Something was about to break, not usually something to look forward to. Yet, the shell helped me to be with this process in communicating something new to me. As I inspected this piece of nature I could see the beautiful spiral inside, perfectly shaped, and it seemed as if the spiral had no beginning and no end. It felt like there is movement in the brokenness and I realized that I would not have been able to see this winding beauty at the core if the outer shell were not broken away.
This is where I connected brokenness with openness. The shell on first glance looked broken, vulnerable. Looking closer I could see the intricacy, beauty and perfection still inside. It didn’t appear destroyed, on the contrary. I actually had the sense that what had broken off were the parts that made space for the essential to be revealed. The spiral – the backbone of the shell, so to say. So this became my metaphor and support when times got tricky and parts in my life, parts of me, seemed to fall away or apart.
Now after some years I am back to collecting the broken shells again. This time my focus is on the variety of brokenness and the array of beauty that gets revealed. Some still have the mother of pearl shine, others are white washed or beautifully patterned, and all of them, no matter how broken they are, display their spiral backbone, the winding movement that seems undisturbed and keeps moving.
My collection seems to reflect Life itself – and that being pristine and/or being broken are phases in the big circle. It is not about being whole or broken – either – or – it is rather both – and.
So it is not that I am completely and always at peace with being broken – I have, however, this beautiful exhibition of brokenness on my windowsill which reminds me every day of the beauty of vulnerability – the diversity and even strength that comes to life when something else seems to fall away.
I’m breaking open – aliveness can breathe….