By Robert Krantz
A few years ago, I was walking down a sidewalk near my home when I found the half of a seashell. It wasn’t very big, about the size of my thumb. Its smooth inside was white with interesting shades of faint blues. The outside, a couple shades off white. I do not remember why that day my gaze was fixed so low, why my spirit felt so downtrodden. Perhaps it was just a general malaise, the kind inherent with being human, more acute when the August winds carry hints of Autumn, especially at night—slight chills that wisp against the face like cold kisses, reminding us that summer, like everything, is transitory. Many people have a nostalgic relationship with the change of seasons. Some of us turn towards this change with a weariness and a pull towards sadness.
When I noticed the out-of-place shell, my thoughts went to other strange and unusual objects found very far from where they should be—rumored evidence of Viking ruins in Wisconsin; astronaut hieroglyphs in the tombs of Egypt; landing strips in Mayan ruins.
It seemed odd to come across half of a seashell on a cul-du-sac in Rochester, Michigan. Sure, it wasn’t as epic as discovering the huge monoliths in shallow Japanese ocean waters, but the shell did seem improbably out of place, enough so to capture my imagination.
I wondered if there truly was a sentient presence directing and facilitating reality moment by moment. Or if there was an ultimate Watchmaker who now views his creation with fascination as time unfolds events he could not foresee. To be sure, there are definitely great mysteries and extraordinary synchronicities in life. I thought about miracles and of life’s infinite possibilities—the idea of the existence of multiverses, language acquisition—witnessing a toddler’s babblings become words and sentences, formed thoughts. Quantum mechanics and the discovery of the Higgs-Boson … the way a sunflower’s seeded face moves with the sun as it travels across the sky on a summer day. Giraffes.
I also considered whether this lonely shell was truly out of place or if it was a gift of some type, somehow personal. Is it possible that a Creator left this for me to find on that day—a token, a totem, or maybe a clue? Are there Easter eggs hidden for us every day that we blindly overlook in our reckless pursuit of whatever it is we think we want or need? What were the chances of that … of love … of life itself? Is there such thing as “chance?”
Maybe the clam was my power animal.
I put the shell in my pocket.
Of course, though my imagination grew upon discovering the shell in such an odd location, a simpler explanation could’ve existed. Maybe a child dropped it while being pulled in a wagon from a day at the local pool, watching it grow smaller and smaller as his father pulled the Radio Flyer down the sidewalk towards home—Dad panting, a little too soft-in-the-middle from Five Guy’s cheeseburgers and Diet Coke. But, really, there’s nothing compelling about a simple explanation.
Then I remembered! I had been lamenting over a woman. A woman who had me on “the outs” for valid and blameworthy reasons. I won’t get into that. “Not here,” as my brother once said to me decades ago as we sat at a local tavern and uttered secret words about our parent’s divorce. “Not here.”
We never spoke about it again.
Then, a synchronicity! I took two steps forward and found another half seashell just loafing on the concrete several feet away from the first one.
I picked it up and quickly inspected it. It must be the “other” half. Finding this second shell had to mean something. Something big. I reached in my pocket, pulled the first shell out and held it up close to the second. Although they were very similar, they were not an actual “pair.” That is, they weren’t from the same oyster, clam, or cockle that I could detect. Not these two. I wondered if it would have been more meaningful had those shells matched perfectly, fitted together at the lateral hinge, shared a common pallial line. That’s not how it worked out this time. My temporarily-lifted spirit flagged with subtle disappointment.
As I turned to walk home, the thought occurred to me that perhaps the disappointing fact that the shells did not match could offer as much insight as if they did. Maybe there were two children in that wagon, two brothers, one following the other’s lead by dropping his shell out of the wagon after seeing his older brother drop his. Maybe there was a small red plastic bucket of shells nestled in the corner of the wagon and when they ran over a bump, a couple shells fell out onto the sidewalk.
Really, the whole thing probably wasn’t metaphysical at all.
“Nothing to see here, folks. Just keep walking.”
In my resumed brooding, the only metaphor I could muster, the only meaning I could summon up was regarding my past relationship: it, simply put, was a cosmic “almost,” just as finding two mismatched shells on a random sidewalk was.
I placed both shells in my pocket and headed back to the apartment, watching sprinklers jet water over lush grasses and wondering less and less about the unpaired halves.
Upon arrival, I sat down in my easy chair and scribbled the following lines:
I remember the wheat fields
of Iowa and the photograph
of you I took with me,
and how neither ever ended—
edges splayed with mysterious horizons
and miraculous loaves.
We loved much
collided with stars,
and stuffed our age-spotted hands
into denim pockets,
watching the children
move from our sides
as is their nature.
Tonight the harvest moon
is full and I wait for its tides
to pull something living
out of these bluish seas.
The half-shells we find
were once a thing joined together,
breathing, and grinding
new pearls into place.
And that was that. I tucked the shells away into a drawer next to some old, broken wristwatches and random Post-It Notes with kind words written on them from the folks I met in a therapy group I had attended years before.
Half a year after finding the shells and writing that poem, I met a woman who captured my imagination and revitalized my spirit. I have come to love her quite deeply—her perseverance, her self-reflection and her ideas. Sometime during one of our first few meetings, I gifted her the pair of half shells (gift giving is one of my “love languages”). I don’t know why I gave her two irregular shells that didn’t quite fit each other. I probably should have thought the symbolism out more thoroughly. Despite not being able to express it at the time, I think I wanted to say that even the mismatched can create pearls; even the despairing can find beauty; and that no one knows what’s going to happen next. I wanted to say, “assume positive intent” from the universe, from life, from me.
Even now, I’m not sure what she thought of receiving the shells at the time, or what they might mean to her now. It was a small token exchange that might have been so inconsequential to her that the shells were never even thought twice about.
Occasionally I wonder.
Things didn’t work out as I’d have liked with the new woman. Life can be complicated. But, she has become a great friend. We share freely about what our own parents’ divorces meant to us, and we bemoan our exes and the excruciating realities of single parenting. We worry about our kids and agonize over our aging (or passed-on) folks. Always there’s concerned talk about the general state of the world. We lament the losses inherent to life. We groan. We bitch. But we survive, in some ways, together. We help carry each other’s burdens with honesty, dignity and compassion. We trust each other.
We laugh, too. We laugh a lot. I think laughter may be our love language.
* * *
Sometimes events we experience in this enigmatic life seem enormous and metaphysical to us at the time. Mostly, they are in fact, miniscule humdrum experiences—blips on a timeline that become one’s life. The opposite is also true. Occurrences that seem tiny grow into something life-defining. Joan Didion once said, “life changes in an ordinary instant.” Beauty and abundance can grow from the infinitesimal, tragedy can arrive unannounced in a moment.
The problem is, as the book of Ecclesiastes points out, man’s timing is incorrigible. It’s nearly impossible to tell the insignificant from the momentous, or whether an ordinary instant will expand into a universe of its own or contract into itself and become nothing more than a pinprick-sized spot of forgotten memory, shrinking into obscurity as each day passes.
Be sure, each moment will grow or wither—be sure.
Robert T. Krantz is the author of four chapbooks of poetry, including mishigamaa and Gargoyle. His latest, Something to Cry About (Cathexis Northwest Press), was released in 2019. His individual works have been nominated for the Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prizes, and have been featured in Hamilton Arts and Letters, Grasslimb, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and others. Robert studied poetry at the University of Arkansas—Monticello. He lives in Detroit, Michigan and works in metrology.