A kind of beauty

A few of the imperfectly beautiful shells I gathered in January 2013, Captiva Island Florida

A few of the imperfectly beautiful shells I gathered in January 2013, Captiva Island Florida

“There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.”Conrad Hall

During our brief getaway to Captiva Island in January, I spent blissful hours walking along the shore searching for seashells. Sanibel and Captiva are duly famous as a shell-gatherer’s dream. I had never seen so many shells washed ashore anywhere. Initially, I was searching primarily for the elusive perfect seashells, the kind you pay for in stores. Scavenging for these was a fun challenge, and I found them just often enough to keep me searching.

After awhile, though, I began to notice that the imperfect shells were beautiful, too, and far more unique. Each had its own details and characteristics. The rough pounding of the waves had lain them open, exposing the amazing inner structures that are concealed by the perfect surfaces of the undamaged shells. In many shells, the sand and sea had smoothed the damaged edges, creating a polished appearance that could have been an intentional work of art.

Months earlier, my friend Kathy had written to me about a trip to Sanibel, and how she had learned to see imperfection in a different way as she gathered shells. I now know exactly what she meant.

Our imperfections, as much as our virtues and strengths, make us who we are. Perhaps this is the lesson inherent in the beautiful verse in 2 Corinthians 12:9, where God tells Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This does not mean that we should not work to improve our lives or ourselves. But even our less appealing traits can be smoothed and polished into a uniquely beautiful character.

We may be uncomfortable with our flaws, particularly those related to physical appearance, because we live in a world that projects mostly idealized images through advertisements and carefully edited media presentations. But each of us has something to offer the world that can come only from us, and our individual gifts are shaped by our struggles and imperfections. May we all value ourselves enough to see our own inadequacies as opportunities to grow, not barriers to hold us back.

This post was originally published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. mike c.

    Having kind of recently read “Gift from the sea”, I get it. I understand the geography and orientation of Sanibell and Captiva make them great shell gatherers. Can you drive to Sanibell? I have not been south of Orlando at this point. On our last trip to Destin my cousin found a really nice cone shell that he gave to Verie. If i remember correctly- I am still in the Oyster shell stage of life. –getting stuck in a myriad of ways and not quite ready to transition to the freed up Nautilus stage. Of course the small imperfect Oyster “Mother of Pearl” whorls are beautiful.
    And of course there is the legend of the Sand Dollar. We were supposed to leave Friday for NYC and then Seattle. Postponed indeifinitely.

    • Yes, most of us have travels scheduled that have been “postponed indefinitely” — as have the refunds the cruise lines keep promising. Yes, you can drive to Sanibel. What Jeff and I did was fly into Ft. Lauderdale and then drive across “Alligator Alley” to the gulf coast (Naples) and then south from there. We actually liked the smaller island Captiva, just a bit farther south, better than Sanibel, but both are lovely. I’ve always liked the gulf coast beaches of Florida better than those on the Atlantic side.

  2. mike

    I have been to Clearwater and St. Petersburg on the gulf side. My son has been through the alligator alley. As Verie likes to collect shells , I am sure she would like it.
    One of the spiritual writers I read- Rollheiser- likens this current epidemic time to a Noah’s ark journey, not knowing when or exactly how the trip would end. Trusting there would be an end someday.
    And who is the writer who wrote kind of a memoir of the plague years?

    • You may be thinking of The Plague by Camus, although that’s a novel. Of course, there is now no end of articles about various pandemics and epidemics, and some of it is quite interesting. Here’s an older article from Scientific American, about the “Black Death” plague in Europe of the 1300s, that has some potentially hopeful conclusions about survival.

  3. mike

    “Beauty in imperfection.” Certainly true of trees.

    • It’s funny…I seldom see imperfections in healthy trees, I suppose because I don’t expect them to look alike. I tend to let things get overgrown. I really need to have someone come trim the trees at my York home. They are blocking the light that everything else needs to bloom.

  4. mike c.

    No this writer lived through the Black Plague period in Europe and though known for other works wrote a memoir of the plague. French? De Maupassant?
    And if you get your trees trimmed it will also open up light for them also, which i learned in a pruning class.

    • Yes, I definitely need to get my trees trimmed. I need to make an appointment with the arborist.

      I’m not familiar with anything De Maupassant wrote about the plague, but then again, I know very little about him. I do remember being totally fascinated by his story “The Necklace” which we read in 8th grade, I believe.

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