For much of my life, I operated with an exterior persona that functioned as a strong shell. At different times, this shell looked like a studious high school student, a schleppily-dressed college student, a hot girlfriend, a nerdy computer consultant, a driven business school student, a put-together management consultant, and so on.
Those roles, not how I actually felt or who I actually was, primarily dictated how I would present myself in just about any situation.
It worked well. I surrounded myself with people who had their own beautiful shells as well, and we reinforced each other’s image and our views of the world.
Every so often, though, something horrible would happen to one of them and their shell would crack open. Sometimes it was an unplanned pregnancy, or the sudden death of a loved one, or loss of a job. It might have been a really bad break-up or the need to live off the grid for awhile.
These kinds of things not only tried to get me to change how I viewed the world, but often broke my friends’ shells open. And though I felt badly for them, all I could see was the crack in their shell. I couldn’t get past that.
Of course, my own shell cracked occasionally, but I always seemed to grab a piece that felt big enough to hide behind. Then I could pretend that everything was fine while I frantically rebuilt. Likely, everyone else could see I was hiding behind part of a broken shell, but they were polite and pretended to go along with my charade, as my sense of identity and well-being was tied to that fragment of a shell.
Then events happened to completely shatter my shell, leaving only tiny pieces. None were big enough to hide behind. Even if a large piece were lying around, I didn’t have the strength to sift through the rubble to find it, much less lift and hide behind it.
Without a shell, it was just me, exposed.
I felt soft and naked and vulnerable. I was disoriented and scared, and I literally hid from people.
Then something shocking happened that still leaves me in awe: People didn’t run. They didn’t even turn their heads. They acknowledged the broken shell without pity, AND they saw me. They even saw good things in me. Often, those were the exact things that I spent a lifetime trying to hide.
Through their eyes, I started to see myself.
With their help, I learned to live without my shell.
Not that I don’t have one at all. I still don’t like people to see me when I experience the “ugly” side of cancer and cancer treatments. I don’t like them to see me drugged, or vomiting, or in pain. I don’t like people to see the changes that cancer causes in my body. I mostly only go out when I am feeling well and can present a healthy front.
However, I recently realized that I myself can now see past the cracked or broken shell of another. Through the jagged edges, their bright light shines out, so bright that I don’t even see the broken pieces.
I am so grateful to everyone who showed me, through their actions in my life, how to do this. And I am so grateful for all the beautiful people who let me be part of their lives. Thank you.