Little webs of suffering and sacred grounds

“The story of the web of suffering and trauma can be a fearful, beautiful and sacred ground, for it reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit. It reminds us of the capacity we all have for perseverance, growth and healing.” 


Walking on the beach, I am meandering along the ever-changing line where the waves meet the sand. I stop to pick up a sea shell nestled in the firm, wet sand. I crouch down and rotate the shell between my fingers, inspecting. It is a brilliant yellow color and its delicate ribbed pattern is free from the abrasions and chipping the crashing waves usually cause on a seashell’s journey to shore. 

But I stop, my momentary excitement about the find has diminished. A wave creeps up and embraces my ankles. I decide to put the shell back where I found it and I watch as another wave tugs the little shell back out towards sea. 

The sea breeze blows my damp, salty hair into my face, and as I push it out of my eyes, I notice another shell. Unlike the crisp, cheery, yellow shell, this one is lying there content in mute shades of steel grey, beige, and dusty blues.

This shell has a spider web of divots and craters, some likely to be chipped away from its long tumble to shore and others caused by carnivorous sea creatures trying to puncture the shell and eat the clam. But none of the punctures or craters have penetrated the surface, perseverance, I think. 

I run my fingers along the tangled web of imperfection and decide it is beautiful. It spoke to me instantly. The story of a life that looked nothing like the pretty yellow shell. This shell spoke of troubles and of resilience.

The shell is heavy like a stone in the palm of my hand. Waves come up and and pull away at the sand surrounding my feet. I hold the shell and think of my work of being a therapist. I think of all of the times I sit in wonder, amazement, and inspiration at the capacity of change and growth despite hardships and trauma. I think of all of the times I sit awash in humility and inspiration at the sheer resilience of the human spirit. I hold the stories of hardship, poverty, and trauma with fear and reverence, just as I tenderly hold all the little abrasions in the seashell.

How powerful that capacity is to endure despite the messy web of suffering so many people experience. I run my fingers along the inside of the shell. Smooth and untouched. The clam is not the abrasions. The person is not the trauma nor the suffering. Although affected and often wearing the scars for all to see, we are not our troubles, we are not what happens to us. In the midst of our sufferings, we are imperfect, yet capable of being beautifully strong.

The sun is setting lower now and casting her blanket of golden, late-afternoon glow on the sand and sea. I carry the shell with the tender reverence of someone who has heard a story. A story that means something, a story that matters. I decide I’ll take the shell back to my therapy office. Perhaps this shell can share her story with more than just me.

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