Living in Nested Shells: Being Held in the Mystery

by Maria Theresa Maggi on July 25, 2020

The arrival of very new little person into the lives of my son and daughter-in-law and myself and the need for confidentiality and privacy on social media services for their safety has covered over my usual urge to narrate. It’s as if the softest blanket of new snow fell over it, like I used to love witnessing in Moscow winters, that first true snow when from the window beyond the firelight I’d watch everything getting tucked in: the sidewalk, the tree branches, the street, the cars, even the spare architecture of bicycles leaning against a house. When all is covered in this blanket, a peace settles over everything as well. And so it is that we settled into our cocoon of social media quiet and found it good.

Very new little person continues to grow and thrive, and is not quite so very new anymore. But the uncertainty of their situation is brought home to us with regularity. One morning as Cotton and I were walking on the beach, I was reflecting on how trusting the love we feel and being as present with that as possible is like being held in a protective bowl or shell, whether I am confronting the uncertainty in the world or the uncertainty in our family life. Staying present in love and trust strangely buoys me with courage to move through each moment. I looked down on the sand and saw this huge half shell and decided to take it home. On the way back up to the steps, I found the little one you see inside it in the photo, nearly identical to it, and it struck me how our personal situation is a small replica of what is asked of us in the world at large as we move toward the birth canal to a better world, uncertain how much trauma and suffering it will require to get there. And yet, in the vision and trust in the power of abiding love, I can (mostly anyway) stay afloat amid the uncertainty.

I’ve enjoyed this quiet time of not writing a lot, not drawing a lot, not feeling compelled to create every day. It’s given me an opportunity to look at that compulsion, and realize that I regularly said to myself that if I drew a picture that day then I felt like I deserved to breathe. It’s dawning on me that I deserve to breathe because I am alive, just as everyone else does. And I have this unshakable trust that when something so important dawns on me, it is helping pave the way for this dawning in others, and in society, and in our world. So I let the dawning come as best I can.

Yesterday it was a year ago since Romeo crossed the rainbow bridge. It was a hard day for me, perhaps because the anniversary gave me a chance to mourn all of the life I had with him, before the pandemic and before there was no going back to any of that as it once was. I realized, though I have tried earlier, I had nearly all of Romeo’s ashes, and I felt him prompting me to let more of them go.

So this morning we took his ashes down to the beach, stopping at an outcropping of exposed bedrock I like to call “the dragons.” These large, curving “tails” of bedrock appear and disappear and appear again as the ocean shoves sand over them or pulls it back out off the continental shelf. I walked among them, in the places that were stable enough to support my weight, and I put my hand in Romeo’s ashes and strew them over the dragons little by little. While I did this, Cotton ran with joyful abandon, jumping over the dragon backs, as if to salute his old friend.

When I felt like it was time to stop, I listened to that. Though I still had some ashes left, the bag was now considerably lighter, and so was I. I looked down at my feet to see a very unusual hunk of almost purely white agate, which I could not resist picking up. A few yards away, a very small amber one twinkled up from the dark sand near the water, and I picked it up too. Together they made a lovely representation of the colors in Romeo’s coat, confirming for me that this gift from the sea meant I had indeed made the right call.

Earlier this week our very new little person had their first institutionally supervised court ordered visit with a biological parent. It was an emotional morning for all of us, and as I kept vigil from afar I felt like I needed a large vision to keep me company. I went and found the film The Way, for reasons I can’t completely divulge here. It’s one of my favorites, a story about a grieving father whose grown son has died on The Camino in Spain. The grieving father decides to make the pilgrimage in place of his son, carrying the ashes with him, dispersing them along the way. It was a big enough vision to contain both vigils: the one for very new little person and the one my heart was keeping in honor of my Romeo’s passing. The song Thank U, by Alanis Morissette is part of the soundtrack, and it fit my soul’s feeling like an old glove to hear it again.

This is where I usually try to wrap it up in some kind of crescendo that runs back up and down everything I’ve been trying to say. But today I’ll just say I don’t know how to do that. I’m grateful I can breathe. I’m grateful for the mystery that holds me, and holds all of us, I’m grateful for the love given and received in my life, across space and time, and beyond it.

The shape of a shell is also the shape of a bowl or a cradle. It’s a place to shelter, to nourish, to rest. Even the shape of my astrological birth chart is in this shape, so it feels right to my soul to return to it, a pilgrim afloat in a rounded vessel that can dip and toss, buoyant through loss and through change. And open, always, to transformation, even when it means getting capsized.

Maria (moonwatcher)



Leave a Comment

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tom Gebo July 26, 2020 at 9:11 am

Powerful! Peaceful! Plenty! Love You Cuz!


2 Maria Theresa Maggi July 26, 2020 at 9:53 am

Thanks Tom! xoxo


3 Robbi Nester July 26, 2020 at 9:15 am

Lovely blog post.


4 Maria Theresa Maggi July 26, 2020 at 9:53 am

Thanks Robbie! 🙂


5 Marge Evans July 26, 2020 at 9:31 am

thank you.


6 Maria Theresa Maggi July 26, 2020 at 9:54 am

you are most welcome, Marge–thanks, as always, for reading.


7 Trish July 26, 2020 at 9:44 am

How beautiful you write. So grateful.


8 Maria Theresa Maggi July 26, 2020 at 9:54 am

Thank you Trish!


9 Deborah Harris July 26, 2020 at 1:24 pm

Ah Maggie
So much pain hidden in your grateful words
Much love


10 Maria Theresa Maggi July 26, 2020 at 1:43 pm

Thank you for seeing and feeling that with me, Deborah. I’m always awed by how both can be true and simultaneous. Much love back to you


11 Olwyn July 27, 2020 at 5:46 am

Your cup runneth over.
So good to know you and Cotton are safe by your ocean.


12 Maria Theresa Maggi July 27, 2020 at 10:46 am

Thank you, Olwyn! I appreciate you.


13 DONNA BETTS July 27, 2020 at 10:24 am

Oh Dear One – you always seem to express what we are all feeling. I should say rather what I have been feeling. I am grateful for the mystery that holds us all as well. That has been the question on my mind lately – why am I still on this planet — but you put it beautifully — the mystery of our life and breath —


14 Maria Theresa Maggi July 27, 2020 at 10:46 am

Oh thank you, Donna! Bless you.


15 Silvia July 28, 2020 at 10:30 pm

Thank you, Maria!
This post touched me deeply….
Feeling connected in sadness, in being comforted.

Silvia in Germany


16 Maria Theresa Maggi July 29, 2020 at 12:32 pm

Thank you so much, Sylvia, for these beautiful sentiments. xo


17 Gena August 2, 2020 at 10:25 am

Bravo, Maria, for not feeling the need to conclude the post with anything other than your honest words, relayed to us as they come to you. And actually, it ties in beautifully with everything else: the experience of maintaining personal peace within uncertainty, of love as the foundation of that peace, of the way we live our lives being an expression of how we orient ourselves outwardly in the world. I’m also glad you’ve felt some freedom to create in a way that isn’t scheduled. I think I know what you mean about going through an experience or stretch of time that reconstructs priorities. The perspective that happens in those moments can be so illuminating. Thank you for sharing with us. Taking a moment, though a little late, to wave to Romeo’s spirit.



18 Maria Theresa Maggi August 3, 2020 at 7:09 pm

Thanks so much, Gena, for “getting” what I was after and describing it all so generously and also especially for your wave to Romeo’s spirit. Love you!


19 Rare Artistry August 7, 2020 at 3:22 am

This is lovely! its my 1st time to see such big shell.Thanks for the info.


20 Maria Theresa Maggi August 7, 2020 at 9:41 am

Thank you!


21 Michelle Gallagher August 8, 2020 at 4:32 pm

Thanks as always for sharing –

I’ve read you for so long – starting with McDougall – that I mourn the passing of Romeo too. I’m so glad you have Cotton and a new tiny person.

Blessings to you all – Michelle


22 Maria Theresa Maggi August 8, 2020 at 6:23 pm

Oh Michelle–you don’t know what this means to me–thank you so much–and blessings right back to you! xo


23 Veronica August 20, 2020 at 10:59 am

This post really resonated withe me. I think you lost Romeo the same day I lost my Gandalf.
Congratulations on the expansion of your family with a new little person – they can bring joy during tough times, and I know they’ll be fiercely loved.
I’ve been taking a break from various things, too, only doing them when I feel it’s right, not when I feel I should. And I think that’s a good thing, it’s better for the soul.
Sending you love and happy memories, and joy to form new ones. xoxo


24 Maria Theresa Maggi August 22, 2020 at 9:48 am

Dear Veronica–thank you for these lovely words–yes it is good for the soul to operate this way. Wishing you lots of love and happy memories of Gandolph as well, and also that joy to form new ones. xoxo


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