the way a snail carries his shell

You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live a world, but a world lives in you.

+ F. Buechner, Telling the Truth

And of course the reality is that we are, all of us, lugging around who we are and how we have become who we are everywhere we go. We carry it, the whole world of it, as Buechner says, “the way a snail carries his shell.”

We aren’t only carrying our shell of a world on our backs as we give big speeches or as we propose or as we write. We aren’t only carrying our shell of a world on our backs as we dream about the future and give testimony to the past.

We do, of course, carry it on our backs in those moments.

But it is in the more unsuspecting ways and places that we carry the weight of our worlds with us––for all the delight and all the pain with which they’re made–– that the influence of our shell is often and easily felt to be crushing or protecting us without our noticing the simple presence of it.

As if slowing down time, we begin to gain insight into the hidden parts of our worlds when we begin to observe the luggage on our back

in the humanity of conversations with those on the other side of counters at businesses.
in the tones that dogs are asked, yet again, not to chase down the neighbor’s stroller.
in the way we fill out paperwork at the jobs we were once nervous we wouldn’t be able to find.
in the faces or phrases we make when we are the recipients of ignorant words.
in the emotions we show those who cut us off, or who honk when we (accidentally) cut them off.
in the things we wish upon those who harm us, help us, love us or misunderstand us.

And the temptation is to freeze under the weight of our shells when we realize all that is at play every time we interact with another human being. But there’s an opportunity for compassion, on ourselves and others, hidden in the weight of the reality as well, much like the weight of the reality itself is hidden.

We have, in those moments, the opportunity to take another step in the direction of our choosing toward being the person we have hoped we were made to be, the person who is able to respond and receive compassionately, humbly, and gracefully.

The person who allows the weight of the shells we carry to tell us the truth about how messy our worlds are, how impossible some days feel, but how we come out the other side almost every time.

The person who recognizes, in his or her own business, restlessness, exhaustedness, selfishness, that  others are stumbling around in the day trying to hold all the same things while keeping their hair and faces on straight.

In the moments we begin, piece by piece, to accept the reality, that we, all of us, do not just live in a world but that a world lives in us, we begin to act and live in more human ways. And it will likely be terrifying.

djordan
Atlanta, GA

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One thought on “the way a snail carries his shell

  1. Bri Hansen says:

    This is my most favorite quote right now…I even quoted part of this book in my capstone. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

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