Once a young clam aspired to being an oyster. The clam was convinced it had a matchless pearl waiting within, if it could just find the right grain of sand to get started. When it had a focus for its efforts, when its juices really started to flow, the result would be a creation of stunning beauty. So stunning, perhaps, that the entire history of pearl cultivation would have to be rewritten to include the clam’s achievement. But this triumph all depended on finding the right grain of sand. And not simply finding it, but welcoming it and the lifelong torment it must bring as the price of a pearl’s fashioning. For the clam had studied the lives of oysters and had come to the conclusion that the level of agony each one suffered in creating a pearl determined much of its value. A mistake at the start, then, choosing a grain that was so slight it would never result in anything of note or one so large the pain it brought would simply overwhelm the clam and leave it exhausted, these were the great fears that haunted it. Since its entire life would be judged by the outcome of this long nurturing of distress, the clam’s initial decision could make all the difference. And what if the clam spent a lifetime molding its pearl, creating layer after layer of intricate turns on the jagged ache at its heart, only to have the sum of all its endeavors tossed aside as lacking the expected outer shape or luster? There would be no starting over at that point, nor any excuses to be made that would hide the humiliating failure. Nothing to ease the final torture of not measuring up. Or suppose the clam did measure up on some scale of woe-to-worth, some ratio of suffering to beauty, but found the fashion of the day ruled by a different appraisal. What solace would the perfect pearl be then? It might have been assumed that such concerns would make the clam think twice about its desire to be an oyster. Burrowing to quiet safety under a beachload of sand rather than straining to fashion splendor out of one’s private pain—wouldn’t that have been a wiser life choice for the clam? Of course it would have. But this is not a tale about wisdom.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans