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I was just on vacation in southern Florida. I took none of our trip for granted, because when you hail from Wisconsin, the sunshine, ocean waves, and soft sand are utter delights in the middle of an otherwise cold and very gray spring.

While walking on the beach, my family and I inevitably started hunting for seashells. (How can you not, when angelwings, jackknife clams, and conches are scattered so generously at your feet?) But unlike my husband and three kids, I got bored pretty quickly, trying to stuff my pockets with perfect shells. You know what I mean: the shells with no cracks or missing chunks; the ones with symmetrical washes of color and texture; the ones you can buy in a bag at a souvenir shop.

Once you've collected a handful of pristine shells, they begin to lose their allure. For me, anyway.

I'd rather focus on the busted-up shells: the ones with a hole right through the middle, or a missing spire, or a whorl that's seen better days. Let's talk about them. How far have they travelled? How long have they been around? What objects or sea creatures have they collided with, thus chipping away at their pretty sheen? Those shells are the real deal -- the ones who have gotten knocked around and survived nasty storms and maybe even witnessed a shipwreck or two. I'd love to know their stories, because I'm willing to bet they're the most interesting.

Not only do I find comfort in these jagged and irregular little pieces of calcium carbonate, but they mirror my love of human beings who are likewise flawed -- which is to say all of us. Where have you been? What have you seen? What has split you open and broken you in half? Our years spent in the rough seas are precisely what lend us our character, our purpose, and our rugged beauty.

I would hunt you down on the beach in Florida, and I would declare you perfect.


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