Gift from the Beach

What Was

Take it.

I make no move to reach for the shell in her outstretched hand.  I had seen her picking up shells I didn’t recognize – lettered olives, it turned out – and asking about them led to her telling me how to search this beach and that led to me openly admiring the bigger shell in her bag.  But now I’m horrified that she thinks I was fishing for it.

Five lettered olive shells.
Lettered olives

Take it.  I have lots.

She insists, and so I leave a South Carolina beach with my first whelk.

What Is

Since that day in 2011, I’ve found my own whelks: bigger and prettier than that one, truth be told.

Five large and colourful whelk shells.
Knobbed whelks and channeled whelks

But that first one holds a special place in my heart because it was the first and because it was a gift from someone who had no reason beyond simple generosity to give it to me.

Take it.  I have lots.

Well, and so do I have lots.  And not just whelks.

Seth Godin covers a lot of ground in his wonderful blog, but this recent one really struck home.

If you have a safe place to sleep, reasonable health and food in the fridge, you’re probably living with surplus.  You have enough breathing room to devote an hour to watching TV, or having an argument you don’t need to have, or simply messing around online.  You have time and leverage and technology and trust. For many people, this surplus is bigger than any human on Earth could have imagined just a hundred years ago. What will you spend it on?

What Will Be

What will I spend my surplus (of money and time and stuff) on?  Many things, I hope.

As a symbol of that effort, as a focal point for that commitment, this week I did what that woman on the beach did.  I gave this shell to . . . someone.  Someone for whom it might be the first such shell they’ve ever had.  Not the biggest or the prettiest of its kind, you understand, but a special shell nonetheless.

Take it.  I have lots.

I hope I passed it to someone who will love it.  And to someone who will pass it on when the time is right: when they, too, have lots, whatever that means to them.

If you’re reading this because you have the box in your hands and were wondering what it’s all about, drop me a line on the Contact Form on this blog to let me follow its progress and to record it here.  There’s a code on the engraved plaque inside the box lid that you can use to verify your report.

And even if you never see this shell, just know that it’s out there, heading who knows where.  If the spirit moves you, launch your own surplus projects, large or small, and let me know about them if you like.

Postscript

I quoted Seth in the body of this post, and today’s post from him is also apropos, dealing with the symbolism of actions and how that feeds into our stories.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Jim Taylor

    Title deliberately borrowed, perhaps, from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea?
    I know what holds me back from emulating your example, and giving away things on impulse, things that I would love to see circulating and bringing joy to someone, somewhere. It’s the fear that they won’t appreciate this painting, this carving, this knickknack as much as I do.
    If I give something, I want it to be valued, not discarded to the trash heap someday.
    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – Yes, the title was definitely chosen to evoke the Anne Morrow Lindbergh book. I see your point, but keep thinking of that woman on the beach, who had no idea what (if anything) would come of her gesture. I hesitated for along time because of fear over an awkward interaction. My first such interaction, this week, was good, inspiring me to keep at it. Even if the person doesn’t value the gift equivalently, they might value the act of giving even more than we do.

  2. A lovely idea.
    It’s moments like “Take it. I have lots” that make life so precious.

    Reminds me, oddly enough, of a little boy who was driving me crazy.
    He was riding his bike and yelling and hooting and generally making a noisy mess
    of my life upstairs (we lived over his parents’ garage) as I tried to study.

    I went down to bawl him out and thoroughly did so.
    He looked up and said, “Want a bite of my orange?”

    I was completely disarmed.

    Gifts freely given do that. And are never forgotten.
    That little boy is now 65 years old. Wonder how he turned out?

  3. Tom Watson

    Isabel
    I was not familiar with a whelk, which I gather is a sea snail. Thanks also for my learning for today.

    I know, first hand, how kind and generous you are. I think the lesson is that we gain from what we receive, and we also gain from what we give.
    Tom

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Tom – Ding ding ding. That’s the sound of reaching comment #5,000 (although the system counts my responses, too). If there were a prize, you’d get it. Unfortunately, I’ve already given away my prize whelk, and it had to go to a stranger, anyway. Seriously (:-)), I think you’re exactly right. Giving and receiving are both good for our souls.

        1. Isabel Gibson

          Barbara – Yes, I get that. On our recent trip to NYC, our program leader told us that if someone offered us a seat on the subway, just to say thank you and take it, even if we didn’t want it. Or, you know, feel as if we could possibly be/look old enough to warrant the offer. As she said, “We’re trying to encourage that behaviour.” Well, being an American, she likely said “behavior.”

  4. Pingback: Redux: Surplus – Traditional Iconoclast

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