My world in a seashell


I have many memories of my father. He was a passionate and sensitive man who was raised in a time where it wasn’t really accepted to be a sensitive man. But it was always within him, even if it was stuffed down and suffocated by the masculinity and machismo that ruled the world at that time. Whenever we visited the beach - or the seashore, as he called it - he would marvel at the colors of the seashells. “Just look at the colors,” was a perpetual exclamation as we strolled along the seashore, picking up tiny shells along the way, gazing at the rainbow sherbet sunsets of Kiawah Island, where he retired long before I graduated from high school.

He didn’t grow up embracing the loveliness of the little things in life because his siblings wouldn’t have stood for it. Led by fear (and maybe a little ignorance), they would have given him a proper bashing for it, I am sure. But in his distance from his family and surrounded by people who made him feel safe, he was allowed the space to marvel at some of the most magnificent creations on this planet. Moreover, he was allowed to be more who he wanted to be.

My dad recreated himself over the course of his life. He came from very little, and left behind his upbringing in the East Midlands of Post-war England to start over in the USA - the land of opportunity. In his early days here, he worked hard all day, saving money to make a difference for the future of him and his family. Each night, he would go home to his quarters at the local YMCA, dreaming of his future, scheming of how to get there. He feared nothing, often standing bravely in the face of so things that would many of us crumble and give up. The man NEVER.GAVE.UP. He was resilient, resourceful and had a blind faith in life. Most of all, he was always there for us as a family, holding us both emotionally and physically up when whenever we needed it.

All that is important and significant to who he was as a person....

But along with that, he was vulnerably sensitive. He felt deeper than he would ever have admitted…. perhaps more than he even intellectually understood. He saw colors in seashells and vulnerability in animals. He loved flowers and sunsets and babies and puppies and sent me more cat litter advertisements than I would really admit to most people (“now this is a good ad, love…” was something he said often to my young, art director self). He loved us with silence and strength. His heart was kind, but it showed mostly when he felt safe to show it to you - like a dog that had been beaten down, you had to win his trust and affection. He was a dichotomy of fierce love, strong will, and a gentle sensitivity that is unmatched in most humans.

So each time I walk down the beach, this is what replays in my mind like a broken record: “Just look at the colors.”

I see him, walking next to me, bent over to pick up the nearest shell and marvel at it, like countless others before it. Warm corals. Bright yellows. Creamy pinks. Cerulean Blues. Vibrant purples. He’d look to the sunset and telling me to see as many as I could in my life, reminding me that - like snowflakes - no 2 sunsets are the same. It’s like an old movie in my head, flickering quietly to the background soundtrack of Charleston’s warm ocean waves lapping gently against my feet.

I see him in the seashells and the sunrises. I see him in the babies splashing in the surf and the sandpipers running along the shoreline. And if I silence my mind, I can feel him - his gentle and strong arm, leading me just to where I need to be.

In plain sight...

little treasures

If you spend anytime on the beach, you spend time combing the shores for little treasures. Conch shells, sand dollars, and still in tact bi-valves are always fun to come across. But the real treasure lies in finding the sharks teeth along the shores. They are like tiny little treasures from the sea just waiting for your magical eyes to find them.

Shark teeth seekers are easy to spot on any beach - a slow meander while hunched over looking at the ground, occasionally flicking things around and letting the rubble fall away.  There is an apparent gift in combing for shark teeth that I have yet to master. I have tried all summer to find one and have yet to be successful. But there are some that come by this gift naturally, as if the Universe donned this gift only to them - the special ones.

Each morning I stop off at a little cove in Charleston called Sunrise Park. It's got gorgeous views and is a great place to start my busy day. As I was combing the beach this morning, I kept discarding piles and piles of shells. I sat, hunched over, sifting through the sand handful by handful, looking for the tiniest teeth out there. It was a hugely unsuccessful effort. Discouraged, I gave up.

As I sat there watching the sun come up, I got ready to gather my things. I looked down at the discarded pile of rubble when I noticed something. No...not shark teeth. But in the rubble were a million little shells - broken, crumbled, and beautiful. Shells I had never noticed here before. Little lettered olives. Tiny bi-valves. Itty bitty channeled whelks. And tiny banded tulip shells. All there right in front of me. All discarded because I was so fixated on finding something I thought I wanted...I thought I needed.

I got to thinking, maybe this is true for life. Maybe we are so fixated on the thing we are looking for that more often than not, we are discarding other beautiful opportunities that are right in front of us just waiting to be seen. We walk through our days so concerned with the one thing we don't have that we don't see all the other small things right there in plain sight.

Photography is all about seeing things. It's about waiting for the right moment, the right light, the right angle and they right timing to see what you came looking for. And sometimes in the course of this, you end up getting something totally different but equally as amazing. Like an unexpected gift in the sand, you always get something great. You just have to be open to all the possibilities.

I may not have the gift of the Shark Teeth Seekers. But that's okay. For now, I will sit back on the shore and admire them from afar. I have other gifts. I can see things they don't even know are there.

Gifts that are right plain sight.

Hands full

A handful of shells.

A handful of shells.

There are moments that I feel like my hands and life are full. So full, that I stop to appreciate all the little nuances I have picked up along the way. All I am concerned about are the other things I still have coming my way that I have to hold precariously in the pile that I struggle to fit in my hands already. What if I drop something? What if I forget something? How will I manage it all?

But I believe if you pay attention, you quickly come to find while sorting through that excessive handful of items that there are certain things that are junk and others that are valuable and worth holding on to for a while - if for nothing more than the experience of it all. Maybe what you are holding is teaching you a lesson. Maybe it's there to show you a different way of seeing something. Whatever the reason, there are lessons in all the nuances and things - large and small.

Look closely next time your hands are full. What can you drop – a relationship or a task? What will you have room for – a new experience or some free time? There is almost always something you can let go of. And there is always something you can learn from.