Anyone who has ever spent time on vacation as a beachcomber knows that what you are looking for is the perfect, complete shell. No cracks, nothing broken off, beautifully polished by the ocean; whole. This is what I was always looking for, passing over the broken, slightly imperfect, and small pieces of broken shells. They were not perfect, so why give them another thought? What value were they to anyone? You couldn’t put them on display, say “look what I found!” with pride. No, at best you might put them in the bottom of a potted plant for drainage. How could they possibly be worth anything? Let them be--eventually maybe they would be pulverized and become part of the sand, easily forgotten.
That is what I used to do, and think. What changed my mind? My children. I say that like I have so many. I have two. Two girls. One whole and perfect, the other broken, imperfect. Oh, she looks perfect in her baby pictures. But look at her when she’s a little older and you can see right away. Even if the wheelchair didn’t tip you off, the low facial muscle tone would, as would the drooling and a host of other things. She is my youngest. Is she the one who taught me to see the beauty of broken shells? Well, not really. That honor goes to the older one. When Anna was a small child and we would go to the beach, she helped me look for shells, but she was not as discriminating as I was. She looked for pretty colors, nice shapes, interesting patterns, no matter whether it was whole or just a small broken piece. To her it didn’t matter. She would bring them to me as if they were diamonds, precious pieces to be wondered at and admired, displayed with pride when we got home . That was when I began to see the beauty of broken shells. When Hillary came along and we realized that she was “broken”, it was a devastating shock to all of us except Anna. To her, she was just her sister, someone to play with and love, someone of great value--like the broken shells she used to bring me. It was Anna who saved me from falling apart. There she was, just being a kid, talking to and playing with her sister, introducing her to her friends as if she were just like their siblings. In some ways that was true, she was a rival for our attention, she made noise and needed us. If Anna needed to have a ride to scouts with someone else, it was it was the same as the other kids. The only difference was the reason she needed one. While the other kids might need a ride because their sibling had soccer at the same time on the other side of town, Anna needed one because her sister had physical therapy. To her it was the same basic thing--she needed to be at point A at the same time Hillary needed to be at point B.. It was I who felt the abnormality of the whole thing. When I just stopped and looked at Hillary through Anna’s eyes, I could see that in spite of her “brokenness”, she was the perfect sister. Someone to be placed right along side her friends’ siblings, someone who was a natural part of her life, her family, and of great value.
Watching how Anna developed a relationship with Hillary taught me that every shell, every person, whether whole or broken or just a sliver of what they were intended to be, was beautiful and valuable and worthy of a place of honor. And so I see my daughters as shells, one whole and perfect, the other one a sliver that has such great beauty I simply do not care that she isn’t whole. I’m just glad that she is.