We just got back from the Outer Banks last night. While we were there we went shell collecting. A lot. As my Mother-In-Law observed, it was quite cute because every single shell we came across was a treasure to the first-time beach comber. It mattered not the color, shape or size of the shell, it went into my kids’ bags. By the end we parents were toting their shell bags around, as they were way too heavy for the kiddos to manage.
And as the kids collected their treasures, I walked along and carefully selected shells that moved me in some way. The stripes on one, the smoothness of another, the deep purple hue that seemed impossibly vibrant on one, the deep and mottled black of another… I picked them up and rubbed the sand between my fingers, dusted them off and gazed at them in my palm. Still damp from the ocean, they shone and glistened. I probably collected about 10 shells. I cleaned them and brought them into the beach house and when it was time to go, I packed them in bags. And here we are, back at home, shells in bags. Their luster is gone. The brilliant purples I saw on the beach appear subdued and lackluster. The smoothness of the shells doesn’t feel the same. The varied stripes have become subtle and uninteresting. The shells have dried out. There is no translucency or delicate pearly white colors. The black shell looks like a rock.
My little piles of shells, I have realized, can never capture the sound of the ocean. Or the smell. Oh, the smell. It can’t capture the feel of damp sand under my feet, or the blowing of the wind in the tall grasses. Shells can’t reduce me to the tiny speck of life I was as I stood gazing out at the endless expanse of ocean. They can’t recreate the joy of our children as they ran around collecting every single thing they saw.
My pretty little shells speak nothing of the true story anymore. And they are just here now. And we are here now. These shells cannot reclaim the moments of delight and joy–not mine, nor my kids’. Those moments are in my heart, not in my hands. No shell or toy or t-shirt can bring back time. So as I look at them, I am reminded to treasure the moment, not the things.
Next time, I’ll leave the shells on the beach.