During a recent trip to Florida, I collected several sea shells. Most of them were tiny, perfect scallop shells, but I selected a few others based on their color , or uniquely rugged shape. At some point it occured to me that there was something slightly morbid about this practice. After all, shells are essentially (exo) skeletons. You wouldn't find me collecting the skeletons of cats or dried-out husks of insects. And yet, sea shells have fascinated me since childhood.
I started thinking further about how uncannily beautiful it is that, when a mollusk dies, it gets to leave a shell behind. That shell may be smooth or rugged; it may be salvaged from the shore perfectly intact, or crushed by the friction of waves pounding against sand. I wondered -- and perhaps this was a bit morbid for vacation, so forgive me -- what sort of "shell" I'll leave behind. What will be my legacy to surviving friends and family? If someone were to examine whatever it is I've left behind with the same scrutiny as I did those shells, would they see something of value, or a broken shell to be tossed back into the waves?8