Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Archive for February 2014

I’ve been wondering how to explain what’s going on inside my head these days. Thank you, Eda LeShan, for figuring me out — two generations ago!


by Eda J. LeShan

(first published in Woman’s Day Magazine, 9/22/81)

I recently celebrated my fifty-ninth birthday.  As usual I was utterly astounded by the passing of the years.  It seems to me that last year I was only twenty-five and the year before that I was about twelve.  But no matter how surprising they are, I find birthdays useful.  They remind me that I must not waste a minute of my life – and that I must keep on growing and changing in order to truly celebrate my birthdays.

Eda J. LeShan   circa 2002

Eda J. LeShan circa 2002

A number of years ago I wrote a book called The Wonderful Crisis of Middle Age.  I thought middle age could be called wonderful because it seemed to be a chance for a second adolescence – a time during which I could make new and better decisions about the rest of my life. 

While I was writing the book, I met an oceanographer who asked if I knew how a lobster was able to grow bigger when its shell was so hard.  I had to admit that learning how lobsters grow had never been high on my list of priorities.  But now that he had mentioned it, how in the world could a lobster grow? The only way, he explained, is for the lobster to shed its shell at regular intervals.  When its body begins to feel cramped inside the shell, the lobster instinctively looks for a reasonably safe spot to rest while the hard shell comes off and the pink membrane just inside forms the basis of the next shell.  But no matter where a lobster goes for this shedding process, it is very vulnerable.  It can get tossed against a coral reef or eaten by a fish.  In other words, a lobster has to risk its life in order to grow. I found myself preoccupied with the lobster story for days after hearing it. 

I finally realized that it was a symbol for the book I was writing.  The lobster could teach us that the only way to endure the passage of time and the limits of our mortality is to know that we are growing and changing, that we are becoming more than we have been with each year of our lives. We all know when our shells have gotten too tight.  We feel angry or depressed or frightened because life is no longer exciting or challenging.  We are doing the same old things and beginning to feel bored.  Or we are doing things we hate to do and are feeling stifled in our shells. Some of us continue to smother in old shells that are no longer useful or productive.  That way we can at least feel safe – nothing can happen to us.  Others are [wiser]; even though we know we will be vulnerable – that there are dangers ahead – we realize that we must take risks or suffocate. In honor of my birthday, I invite you to share the party I always go to – the one where I shed this year’s shell, despite the dangers, in order to get ready for new and better adventures.

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