It’s been a month since I said good-bye to my friends at Virginia Beach, happy yet sad as we embraced each other in the bittersweet end to our annual gathering of creativity, womanly power, and meaningful companionship. I always come away from that week with a sense of renewal and at least one important lesson sealed in my heart.
This year, that lesson was about resisting the temptation to cling to every bright object that is given to us, no matter how wonderful it seems or how worried I might be that I’ll never find something like it again. The lesson came about during my week at VAB in a little game I played with the Sea.
The first day I walked on the beach, I came across a beautiful shell. It was white and worn smooth by pounding waves, and immediately I wanted to take it home.
But a voice inside of me said, “You should throw it back to the waves, and see what the Sea gives to you next time.”
So I did.
Two more times that week, I repeated this ritual. Once with a multi-colored shell whose lines were like an earthen rainbow; another time with a dark scallop, perfectly formed. Each shell seemed more lovely than the last, and harder to throw away. But I was intrigued by the game I’d invented, and they were only shells in the end. What did I have to lose by throwing them back into the water and waiting for what came next?
During my last evening at Virginia Beach while walking at the water’s edge, I found the remains of a conch like a flame at my feet. The outer whorls had been stripped away, the inner column sculpted and polished by pounding waves. Some might say this mere fragment of a shell was damaged and incomplete, but I’d never seen anything so stunning.
It wasn’t until a week later, when I was choosing a place for the Sea’s gift in my home, that I realized from a certain perspective the worn conch looks like a sea dragon. That’s what I call the conch now, my Sea Dragon, granted to me because I was patient enough not to horde those earlier gifts, but to enjoy them in their moment before casting them back to the Sea.
By now the practical reader is saying, “You know, Karin, if you’d kept those earlier shells, maybe you’d have all of them and Sea Dragon, too!”
Well, yes. Maybe.
But you also know this post isn’t really about sea shells, don’t you?
This week, in other aspects of my life I was reminded how important it is to occasionally cast away the gifts we’ve been given. These can be physical gifts of place, possession, and comfort. They can be emotional gifts too, of dreams and friendship and even love. Especially of love.
Love is the seashell we would like to collect without limits. We want to gather and gather and gather love into ourselves, to fill our homes with pieces of beauty, sometimes stolen and horded until we risk the objects that enamored us lay forgotten, gathering dust and starved for the sun, sand, and waves that once gave them their magical glow.
Sometimes there are shells we are meant to hold onto, like I held onto my Sea Dragon. But more often than not, we are asked to cast away the treasures we find, just as I cast away those other shells. It’s not an easy thing to do. In fact, it’s one of the hardest tasks for our hearts to master. But you have to remember: Every time you cast one treasure back to the waves, there will be a greater gift forthcoming.
The Sea will keep its promise.