“You can live for a long time inside the shell you were born in. But one day it’ll become too small.”
“Then what?” I ask.
“Well, then you’ll have to find a larger shell to live in.”
I consider this for a moment. “What if it’s too small but you still want to live there?”
She sighs. “Gracious, child, what a question. I suppose you’ll either have to be brave and find a new home or you’ll have to live inside a broken shell.”
It’s strange. How hollow I feel. Like there might be echoes inside of me. Like I’m one of those chocolate rabbits they used to sell around Easter, the ones that were nothing more than a sweet shell encapsulating a world of nothing. I’m like that. I encapsulate a world of nothing.
― Tahereh Mafi, Unravel Me
Like the turtle’s shell, the sense of self serves as a shield against stimulation and as a burden which limits mobility into possibly dangerous areas. The turtle rarely has to think about what’s on the other side of his shell; whatever it is, it can’t hurt him, can’t even touch him. So, too, adults insist on the shell of a consistent self for themselves and their children and appreciate turtles for friends; they wish to be protected from being hurt or touched or confused or having to think. If a man can rely on consistency, he can afford not to notice people after the first few times. But I imagined a world in which each individual might be about to play the lover, the benefactor, the sponger, the attacker, the friend: and once known as one of these the next day he might yet be anything. Would we pay attention to this person? Would life be boring? Would life be livable? I saw then clearly for the first time that the fear of failure keeps us huddled in the cave of self – a group of behavior patterns we have mastered and have no intention of risking failure by abandoning.
A creature that hides and “withdraws into its shell,” is preparing a “way out.” This is true of the entire scale of metaphors, from the resurrection of a man in his grave, to the sudden outburst of one who has long been silent. If we remain at the heart of the image under consideration, we have the impression that, by staying in the motionlessness of its shell, the creature is preparing temporal explosions, not to say whirlwinds, of being.
The nautilus shell was exquisite, brown and white and perfectly striped. The math that lay like a dazzling creation spell over all who lived in the sea showed clearly in the spiral, each cell as great as the sum of the two previous sections. Everything in the ocean was a thing of beauty and numbers, even in death.
Mermaids could live for a long time, but their bodies became foam that dissipated into nothing when they died.
The poor little mollusk who lived in this shell had a very short life, but his shell could last for centuries.
Ariel sighed and brushed her fingers over it, feeling strangely melancholy despite the triumph she literally held in her hands. Years of being mute could be swept away in a second. Years of frustration, years of silent crying, years of anger.
And then what?
If she destroyed it, what would it change?
― Liz Braswell, Part of Your World