The author was celebrating her 59th birthday by reflecting on the years gone by. She used each birthday to remind herself not to waste a minute of her life and to keep growing and changing. While writing a book she'd met an oceanographer who told her the story of how a lobster was able to grow larger though its shell was so hard. He explained that the lobster had to shed its shell at regular intervals. When its body became cramped inside the shell the lobster looked for a reasonably safe place to hide while the hard shell came off. While in the shedding process, the lobster was very vulnerable. The soft underlying membrane could be crushed by wave motion on the coral reefs, or it could be eaten by larger predators. It took a while for the membrane to harden into a new shell. But the lobster had to risk its life in order to grow.
The story of the lobster hit a deep chord in me as I too was going through a major change in my life and felt vulnerable to the "what-ifs" in front of me. I cut out the article and stuck it on the bulletin board in my office where it remained for many years. I referred to it often, using the lobster's story as guidance when changes in my life seemed insurmountable. I knew I had to tough it out - whatever it was - so I could grow and change.
One day a friend, (let's call her Susie) came to my office telling me about the serious changes happening in her life. She was stuck in a relationship, filled with anxiety on how to move on but looking for answers. I made a copy of the Risk of Growing while telling her the story of the lobster. I didn't know at the time what an impact the lobster would have. It caused her to leave the safety of a marriage, though it was not working, and strike out on her own.
I had not seen Susie in probably 25 years. But our paths crossed recently at a weekend gathering of old friends. One morning at breakfast we were talking about the old days and how our lives had changed since we met. We reminisced about a world gone mad; how possessions once valued no longer served us; about life's ups and downs; and disappointments with goals and ideals gone dormant over the years. One of the friends expressed her frustrations and sadness with her current relationship and struggled with how to change it. She wondered how she could reclaim the power and independence she once had without causing irreparable loss with her husband.
Susie told the story of the lobster's need to grow. I was stunned that she knew the story. But she reminded me that I'd given her a copy of it at least 25 years ago. She said, "Oh the lobster story has been with me since you gave it to me. I've relocated many times, changed wallets over the years, but I always kept it. Here, I'll show you." She opened her wallet, moving aside photos of her husband and grandchildren and produced the now creased and aged clipping dated 1972.
She read the story of the lobster to the group, using the analogy of releasing the too tight shell that was cramping the intuitive growth needed by our friend. She explained how our interaction so many years ago had caused her to shed ingrown inhibitions and move forward with freedom into a magnificent new life. She said if she had not exposed her vulnerabilities and taken the risk she would have stayed and by staying, "died" in the relationship.
Life's circumstances cause us to grow and change whether we like it or not. We all know when the shell becomes too tight and uncomfortable. We become fearful, irritable and depressed. Some may stick it out confined by the shell and suffocating the very life inside. The brave ones leave the safety of the shell, venture out into the unknown, and trust they'll not get swamped as the new shell emerges. Surrendering to that vulnerability and trusting in the process is the ultimate lesson of survival.
Eda LeShan shed her physical bindings in 2002 journeying into spirit. But her story of the lobster continues to teach and inspire forty-two years after it was published in Women's Wear Daily.
Jo Mooy - October 2014