"All along the Lee shore/ Shells lie scattered in the sand/ Winking up like shining eyes, at me/ From the sea" (David Crosby, "The Lee Shore," from 4 Way Street, by CSN&Y) The rain spent itself overnight, and though clouds hung over a gray ocean this morning, by mid-day they parted, and the sun came out. Though breezy, the weather was temperate, and we set out north, up the coast. The tide was high, lapping at our shoes, and still advancing. We had different ideas, unspoken, about our walk. I set out briskly, destination in my sights; she, more leisurely, watching for the glint of blue or green that would signify sea-glass. She was a good check on my inattentiveness to what lay under my feet, and so, eventually, I slowed and began to look down at shells, scattered in the sand. I picked one up, intact but with a slight blemish, and I thought of the slight blemish on my forehead I noticed in a photograph of me I saw today. I wondered what had happened to the shell, what had happened to me. I held it in my hand as I walked. It reminded me of one she gave me before we were married, one I still have somewhere. In their 1968 book, The Shell: 500 Million Years of Inspired Design, authors Hugh and Marguerite Stix, who traveled the world to learn about shells and then stage an exhibition of some 15,000 of them, relate a story of a woman they referred to (in a way we would not now) as "[a] Long Island housewife, mother of five," who after a half hour in the gallery, said "I'm not religious, but when I look at them I believe in God." Design presupposes designer. Reading that later, I feel guilty, crunching them underfoot like that, them "winking up like shining eyes at me." For all the ships and seas noted in the Bible, there is nary a mention of shells. Odd, isn't it? Were they just so ubiquitous as to fade into the background, as not to be valued by fishermen-apostles? Here they are, with intricate beauty and unending variety. Once they were used, I read, to summon believers of one ilk to prayer. Maybe, but not these castoffs, spit ashore. Mostly, what lies on the shore are only bits of shells --- broken, hard pressed, hammered by waves, scattered, left. As are we. But not crushed; not forgotten (2 Cor. 4:8). Someone walks into their world and ours, takes note, reaches down, picks us up, holds us close, and carries us Home. I'll carry it home. I'll keep the shell. As a reminder to pray. As a shining eye of hope.
This seashore idyll reaches us — and teaches us — at an almost innate level, some deep, inchoate, calm place we've left behind for the vagabond life of vocational ambition, shopping lines and traffic lanes. In 1955, Anne Morrow Lindbergh left the hurly-burly of the city to rent a very modest cottage on Captiva Island, Florida — a "bare sea-shell of a house ... no hot water, a two-burner oil stove, no gadgets to go wrong" — where she stayed alone for a few short weeks of vacation and penned an American classic, 'Gift From the Sea." In eight simple, but never simplistic chapters, the author compares the shells of her beachcombing to the passages of our lives and our never-ending need for simplicity, beauty and balance. Her tide of wisdom still ripples today. In 2005, her daughter Reeve sojourned on the same island prior to writing the foreword and afterword to the book's 50th anniversary edition. I did the same last year, and Lindbergh's resonance remains with me today. "And my shells?" she concludes."... Little by little one's holiday vision tends to fade. I must remember to see with island eyes. The shells will remind me; they must be my island eyes."