01 January 2008


Riddle: A box without hinges, key or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid. What am I?

Reply: You are a metaphor for life.  You sometimes arrive at my house spattered and dirty.

When our hens climb into the nests with muddy feet or feathers they soil the day's offerings. Hence I wash eggs before using them. I'm doing this now. I handle each egg carefully, examine it closely for the least little spot of dirt.

I like eggs, and not just the way they taste. Our hens lay in sepia tones that range from caramel to tan to beige to, well, eggshell. Some eggs arrive freckled, some splotchy, some bumpy, most smooth. And the shapes! Here's one with a ridge that spirals round its center; another about as rectangular as eggs come. I once read about an ad agency's struggle to find a dozen perfect eggs for use in a television commercial. They bought carton after carton of eggs. In the end they used styrofoam eggs.

If I could, I would keep every egg that catches my eye. That way I could hold and appreciate each egg anytime I wish. But there are limits to what a person can do. So I wash these eggs, set them in the dish drainer, then pick them up one by one. I turn each in my hands, admire its color, shape, individual style. Then I strike it against the edge of a stainless steel bowl. Crack.

How can I marvel at an egg one moment, break it open the next? Perhaps this is what it is to play God. To love life, cradle it in one's palm, then serve as agent of its destruction. Or transformation. 

I cannot save eggs--or anything, anyone--from their fate. All things hurry towards dissolution, change. They don't need my help. Things are what they are. And we are eggs, all of us--with something so magnificent, so golden as life encased in a fragile shell. 

I run my fingers along the beige egg with the spiral ridge, imagine a dancer twirling an orange scarf about her. "Beautiful," I say. "Amazing." Crack.  

"Come here, little speckled freckled Brownie. Thank you for giving yourself." Crack. 

"And you, Square Egg in a Round Body. You hold gold within. Thank you." Crack. 

Yesterday I was outside when I witnessed something new in the night sky. First I heard the croaking and purring, the calling one to another. Then a huge flock of cranes--a hundred or more--passed overhead in several vees. I've seen Canada geese before, yes. And ducks go by, yes. But these were cranes. They were magnificent. I wanted to hold onto the moment. All I could do was watch, notice, appreciate. Say thank you. Say good bye. 

How to stay open, aware, attuned to life? How to say to all that comes my way, "I notice you. Thank you." How to let go? It's a tough riddle to crack. 'Guess I'll keep practicing on eggs.

This essay appeared in The Letter, January 2008

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