There is a very ordinary shell that I love. It’s the clam. A particular kind of clam–the quahog (pronounced “co-hog”). In its whole outward appearance, it is a dull, prosaic shell. You would walk right past it on the beach. Only good for an ashtray, in the days when an adult needed a makeshift one and sent you scurrying to the ocean’s edge to retrieve one.
Like many things that appear whole, outwardly, the quahog seems ordinary, even boring, not cool, like your parent saying the same thing for the fifth time and expecting you to laugh. Eye-rollingly ordinary.
But the quahog breaks up in the waves. Over time, the dull, greyish white wears away, the bits of shell emerge to reveal the most lovely shades of purple, from deep violet to light lavender.
The whole self, my whole self, can seem ordinary in its exterior. I know, as I grow with each year, what value I have. But that doesn’t mean all see it or that people will, in fact, ever see it. One great gift, one benefit of age, is being content with that truth.
There was a time when I needed an audience. I never met a microphone I didn’t love. The more people sitting in front of me the better. I needed to be the fastest swimmer in the lane, the pool, the state, the country, the world. I needed a perfect legal filing for a judge to appreciate my value. I needed a full sheet of billable hours, more than all my peers, to prove my worth. I needed great outward success in any church program I was a part of. I needed to appear violet in a sea of dull grey and white shells. Of course, I never achieved all of that–some of it, most of it, I never achieved.
Like most people who need outward success (and recognition of that success) like they need oxygen, it has taken me too long to arrive at a place of content. Oh, I’m not really there, not fully. That’s the way life works. You continue to grow, or you die, at least in your soul if not in your body. And of course, the minute you write something about foibles is the minute you are faced with your own foibles, yet again.
The lowly quahog in time dies off to become a new thing. I’m feeling that. I have served the machine of business, I have served the machine of organized religion, I have served the machine of children-raising. Yes, I still work. True, I am still a person of faith. My children still exist and I am still their mother. But I now realize that you don’t need to see my violet and lavender for me to have done right, done well in the best sense of the word.
I don’t need to work 50 hours a week (I don’t) AND tell you about. I don’t need to have gotten an award (I haven’t) AND announce it on social media. I don’t need to announce constantly that I’m on top of my game, because 1) I’m not and 2) that serves a nefarious purpose. That’s not to say we shouldn’t make an impact. But is that what our outward, sly boasts are really about? Making an impact? Maybe, sometimes. Mostly, no, it’s not.
We all reveal our violet and lavender at times or in time, but we don’t need everyone to see it all the time. And in getting to violet and lavender, the thing you always craved, you realize you need fewer people to know about it. You can serve in a church but not be its face or even a face. You can work but not broadcast your claimed importance, hours worked, or money made. You can love your children but not proclaim to the world their every success (while, of course, leaving out their failures or disappointments).
And yet, the drive to be that outward violet and lavender will always call, in all that you do and say and write.
Yes, especially when some of us write.