Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
My Life As A Hermit Crab
by Sara Baker
Retirement—time collapsed onto itself into a single focal point. The urgency and franticness of my day-to-day life quickly diminished as I welcomed the physical and mental inertia. Soon, however, my emotions ran like unpredictable ocean waves on the beach. Sometimes they crashed into the shore like a Tsunami with great force, thrashed the shoreline, eroded what was, and left me feeling afraid, vulnerable, insecure, and worthless. Other times, these waves of emotion effortlessly rolled into the shore with gentle silence, deposited beauty, grace, and wisdom, and left me feeling secure, trouble-free, and authentic.
Time soon lost its relevance, for now I was free from the centrifugal force that was once generated by the multitude of activities and facets of my life. Despite this new-found freedom, I remained as discontent as the nomadic, restless hermit crab who spends the duration of its life in a relentless, continuous pursuit of a recently vacated, more commodious, and appropriate shell. Even though the hermit crab is extremely vulnerable to beach predators and death during its travel, the hermit crab impulsively, blindly, and unquestioningly repeats the cycle.
Initially, this cyclical behavior seems irrational—-why not locate the largest, roomiest, most comfortable shell on the beach and live safely in it for the duration of its life? Seems simple, right? Yet, during my lifetime I, too, frequently, impulsively, and irrationally moved from one shell to another.
For instance, I briefly dwelled in the shell of frugality and dependability; as it became too stifling, I hastily moved into the shell of an obsessive compulsive and filled the emptiness with food, status, and things.
I began to overcompensate as I moved into the shallow shell of over-achievement. However, being an overachiever was uncomfortable and confining; subsequently, I relocated into the shell of self-serving perfectionism. Perfectionism proved too demanding and stressful, so I hid in the shell of an idealistic intellectual.
Eventually, being the idealistic intellectual became boring and impractical, so I occupied the shell of the adventurous entrepreneur. When the risk became too high, I abandoned that shell for the shell of a stable and tireless educator. When the facade I lived every day became unbearable, I became fearful and migrated into the heavy and cumbersome shell of regret and rigidity.
As I wandered the beach weakened by that heavy shell, I unexpectedly discovered the lightweight, flexible shell of insight and creativity. I soon relaxed in my new dwelling and moved deeper into its harmonious, balanced interior regions and, for the first time, discovered peace and beauty.
Now I calmly ask this question: Will I continue my life as a hermit crab, or will I become like a paper nautilus and fearlessly leave the shore seeking buoyancy and freedom as I venture out to the open seas? For now, I am content in not knowing what the open sea offers; perhaps, though, I can inhabit a creative life rich with somber but refreshing solitude.
Sara Baker began her writing career as a teen, incessantly recording her thoughts and story ideas on scraps of paper, including the edges of math class notepaper. Recently retired, she works as a textbook editor and freelance writer. She enjoys exploring her creative thoughts and sharing those thoughts with others.
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