While walking along an Alaskan beach, Debi Knight Kennedy found an old, battered seashell that intrigued her. Now, Ms. Kennedy has come to see the holes and imperfections in the shell as a lesson in appreciating the beauty of aging.
A year ago or so I was walking on the beach and picked up a big, somewhat battered old seashell. I immediately thought of it as a Grandmother shell. I put it in my backpack and brought it home. As the weeks went by and summer turned to fall and fall turned to winter, I kept picking up that shell, turning it over and over. Running my hands and eyes over its contours, noticing its frailties, its strengths. And I kept pondering why it felt so good to me. It was soft and weathered. It was worn right through in places. The holes intrigued me.
On a recent snowy winter morning, as I sat quietly sipping my tea, I witnessed a lovely vision. There was the Grandmother shell, sitting in its regular place on the windowsill, looking almost regal, I thought. Then through the steam of my tea I saw the soft, low, serene winter light shining through the holes in the shell. The wear, the tear, the thinning was allowing the light to shine through. It was a simple moment. A moment that is still with me. For in that moment, I came to understand why this shell had such great meaning to me.
The Grandmother shell was teaching me to appreciate the beauty of aging. Aging naturally, aging with grace, aging with all your wrinkles intact. I believe that there are lessons to learn that are just not available within the fullness of youth and all its glory. To be sure, youth is filled with its own unique lessons, not to be denied or belittled. But there is a certain humility, a humbling that comes with the wrinkles, the graying, the thinning hair, thickening waist, and sagging breasts.
I believe that Mother Nature knows what she is doing. As I see her softening the faces of my friends, my family, and myself, I am growing to love every wrinkle and every silver hair. I am coming to know that I don’t know everything. I am beginning to listen. I am learning to laugh, a lot, with abandon. I am learning how to receive as well as to give. I am learning how to love myself—just the way I am.
When I was a young woman, the only love I understood came from outside of myself. It came in the form of a powerful need, along with the need to prove myself, the need to be heard and respected. Looking back, I can see that I was full of so many needs, there wasn’t much room for anything else. Certainly not self-love. What I didn’t know yet was that it is pretty darn hard to love someone who doesn’t know how to love herself. I’m not really sure how I learned that lesson, but I suspect aging has something to do with it.
And now, with that little gem in my pocket, I am finally learning how to just be. Not do. Nothing to prove. Just be.
Now, I feel soft, a little worn. And with that humbling comes the possibility of allowing the light to shine through, now that I am able to let it in.
Debi Knight Kennedy is a full-time artist/puppeteer/writer with a passion for figurative sculpture. Life’s unexpected twists and turns have landed her in the beautiful and remote wilds of Haines, Alaska, where she lives with her husband and dog and near her daughters and granddaughter.
Independently produced by Dan Gediman for This I Believe, Inc.
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