The Snail Shell

A stressed-out social worker got a gift that brought her peace

Posted in , Jun 9, 2009

A pair of snail shells

I was stressed out from my job as a social worker at a children’s counseling center in Detroit.

All day I’d been going through piles of paperwork—case after case of kids with heartbreaking stories. Like Jasmine, a six-year-old who’d recently lost her mother. I had an appointment with her later.

Had I helped her at all in our previous sessions? My worries and stress had me pretty close to burning out. Take a break? Not with so much work to do.

Moving aside some papers, I spied a book in my desk drawer, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It had caught my eye at a used book sale.

The front flap said it was about a woman’s journey to find moments for rest and contemplation in her busy life. I sure could use some moments like that, I thought. But I had been so busy, I hadn’t even found time to read it.

Now I gave it a quick glance. Each chapter began with a drawing of a seashell. The author described one shell, a snail shell, as resembling a resting kitten curled up in a ball.

“Patience is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea,” she wrote. A nice idea...but she wasn’t a social worker. I can’t just sit around and hope things work out; I’ve got too much to do.

I braced myself and opened the waiting-room door. There was Jasmine. She looked different from the last time I’d seen her. Her blonde ponytail swung and a smile was on her face, like she had something exciting to share.

“Miss Mary, I have a surprise for you!” she shouted when she saw me, rushing in and bouncing up and down on her toes.

She handed me a small cardboard box. “I found something this morning when I was playing in my backyard,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to give it to you.”

Something she had found in her backyard? I wondered. I carefully opened the box.

I knelt down and hugged Jasmine. I couldn’t let myself burn out. The message was clear.

Inside was a gift from the sea, found far from it. A snail shell—just like the one in my book.

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