As my first cousin Amy and I walked along a Narragansett Bay shore in early August 2016, we discovered an ancient relic sun-bathing near a salty marsh. Though I immediately recognized its alien-like armor, this harmless creature startled me at first. I did not want to step on it. It seemed move, but then I mistook it for a carcass. It was neither. Its exterior appeared heavy, but when we picked it up, it was light-weighing next to nothing. It was a mere shed.
As empty as it was of life, we both realized our low tide stroll had uncovered a find. Our discovery was more than a mere remnant; it was a recent primeval relic, an abandoned reminder, an exterior cover, an unappealing peeling, a single shell of itself, but mostly evidence of existence and durability. The high tide had likely washed it up onto this marshy mud. This crustacean from another watery realm had somehow extricated from itself at my feet. The bay had ushered this alien vestige and veneer ashore. This creature was a harmless creation, a peaceful survivor, a bottom dwelling pacifist built for longevity, considered Earth's oldest living being. This horseshoe crab had undoubtedly crawled and squirmed out of its old protective skin as its predecessors had done furtively and slowly for millions of years. Maybe this shed was left behind for us to ponder its wonder. While the crab appearance garnered our attention for mere moments, I later began to see it as more than what it was or represented.
My first thought of my cousin Amy Bartlett Wright as a talented and renowned marine wildlife artist and art professor. The shed seemed ideal for her artistry, and then another budded in my brain; I decided this empty shell aworthy to write about.
While this prehistoric sea dweller discarded part of itself, it had no intent to trash its protective home. It was discarded as part of its natural evolution - to squeeze out of its shell and grow another one which would accommodate its growth. To shed and unsuit itself when the time was right. Nature had devised a way for this crab to survive change by changing without changing. It's growth made it lose itself so it could improve itself. The crab had literally outgrown its shell, its suit of armor, its protective encasement. It made room for itself. The horseshoe crab reminds us life revives, thrives and survives by shedding its protective and confining shell. Is it really possible for humans to shed their so-called protective facade and veneer? Certainly, horseshoe crabs can teach humans life lessons:
- Shedding is a natural act.
- Shedding is cyclical.
- To expand, one needs to shed an outer shell.
- Nature created a survivor without any human assistance.
- Change comes after millions of changes.
- Growth comes after one struggles with oneself.
- Our shed is not who we are or have been.
- Longevity is about genes.
- Lowly creatures be the greatest saviors.
- Nature provides a way to expand.
- All bodies need room to grow.
- When we shed, we renew our outer skin.
- What we shed, is no longer usable; it is old and dead.
- Growth is about loss.
- We can't grow unless we leave what is dead behind.
- Blue blood is the life force of a sea creature.
- This harmless creature may cure cancer.
- When humans explore what lies inside, they find answers.
Is it any wonder many of us fail to shed our shells? Is it any wonder many of our answers we step upon by accident?
We humans shed skin, tear, blood and woe, but often struggle to shed what really matters. When we shed light on our past, we understand our present. We can shed weighty shells when we see and feel the lightness that comes from growth. It's about time to shed our old selves and grow.
Amy, Kathy and me during my visit with them in July 2016.