Accepting The Oyster

Sunday, December 6, 2009


"There are other shells to help me, to put in the row on my desk. Here is one I picked up yesterday. Not rare; there are many of them on the beach and yet each one is individual. You will never find two alike. Each is fitted and formed by its own life and struggle to survive. It is an oyster, with small shells clinging to its humped back. Sprawling and uneven, it has the irregularity of something growing. It looks rather like the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life - here a sleeping porch for the children, and there a veranda for the play-pen; here a garage for the extra car and there a shed for the bicycles. It amuses me because it seems so much like my life at the moment, like most women's lives in the middle years of marriage. It is untidy, spread out in all directions, heavily encrusted with accumulations and, in its living state firmly embedded on its rock.
Yes, I believe that the oyster shell is a good one to express the middle years of marriage. It suggests the struggle of life itself. The oyster has fought to have that place on the rock to which it has fitted itself perfectly and to which it clings tenaciously. So most couples in the growing years of marriage struggle to achieve a place in the world. It is a physical and material battle first of all, for a home, for children. In the midst of such a life there is not much time to sit facing one another over the breakfast table. In these years one recognizes the truth of Saint-Exupery's line: "Love does not consist in gazing at each other but looking outward in the same direction; they are working outward. (Observe the steady encroachment of the oyster bed over the rock.) Here one forms ties, roots, a firm base. (Try and pry an oyster from its ledge!) Here one makes oneself part of the community of men, of human society.
Here the bonds of marriage are formed. For marriage, which is always spoken of as a bond, becomes actually, in this stage, many bonds, many strands, of different texture and strength, making up a web that is taut and firm. The web fashioned is love. Yes, but many kinds of love: romantic love first, then a slow-growing devotion and playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship. It is made of loyalties, and interdependencies, and shared experiences. It is woven of memories of meetings and conflicts: of triumphs and disappointments. It is a web of communication, a common language, and the acceptance of lack of language too; a knowledge of likes and dislikes, of habits and reactions, both physical and mental. It is a web of instincts and intuitions, and known and unknown exchanges. In the oyster stage of marriage, romantic love is only one of the many bonds that make up the intricate and enduring web that two people have built together.
I am very fond of the oyster shell. It is humble and awkward and ugly. It is slate-colored and unsymmetrical. Its form is not primarily beautiful but functional. I make fun of its knobbiness. Sometimes I resent its burdens and excrescences. But its tireless adaptability and tenacity draw my astonished admiration and sometimes even my tears. It is comfortable in its familiarity, its homeliness, like old garden gloves which have been moulded themselves perfectly to the shape of my hand. I do not like to put it down. I will not want to leave it." 

Anne Morrow Lindberg: Gift From The Sea

This is one of my favorite books. I relate to Anne through her words. She lived and raised 5 children (after tragically losing her first son) in the 1930's. Yet her words still apply to me a woman raising her five children in the 21st century. They are timeless. I have, at times in my life, not fully excepted all the parts of my oyster shell. The chaos and clutter that come with raising a large family. It is not always pretty or peaceful, but it is beautiful in a different way. I love the symbolism of the oyster shell, how it looks, how it clings to the rock for its place in this world, how a marriage changes; becomes something so much stronger through the journey; the exhaustion that comes from simply living for something of value and integrity, while the relentless waves of the world crash upon us, making it that much harder to keep the strength to hold on. And yet it's those trials and tests that strengthen us and give us cause to build a firm foundation. This is the way things are for now, this is the way it is suppose to be and I know I will miss it when later this stage is over. I hope to learn to love all the knobbiness of my oyster shell.

1 comment:

  1. wow, that was awesome. really beautiful shelli.

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