fresh in the miracle of birth, your eyes were the universe

The Parable of the Crab

I read this parable when I was fourteen. It was in a book called, TO CATCH AN ANGEL, by Robert Russell. It’s a parable that has guided my life since then… or maybe it’s more accurate to say, it’s a parable that I have lived… am still living. This is the way I remember it:

When a crab is first born, it has no shell. Its skin is soft and pink and vulnerable. Most baby crabs are eaten. A few live long enough to grow a shell. The shell is their interface with the world. It’s their protection, their armor, their house, their fortress. But it is also their tool. They use it to pick things up, to crack them open, to push them across the sand. It’s their space capsule, their control pod. But the shell is hard and thick and rigid. As the crab grows, the shell becomes a prison. As the crab grows, its body becomes too big. It pushes against the shell, until finally, it cracks the shell open and crawls away to freedom. But the crab’s skin is still soft and pink and vulnerable. It’s an easy target for predators. It has to grow a new shell to survive. A crab’s life is a process of growing a shell, breaking it open and growing a new shell. Each new shell is bigger and thicker and harder. Finally, the crab grows a shell so hard and thick, that the growing body cannot crack it open. The crab is choked to death by its own shell.

The life of the mind is like this. Our young minds are open and vulnerable. Gradually, we build up a worldview that is like the crab’s shell. It is our fortress, our protection, but also our way of reaching out and exploring the world – and also, eventually, it becomes our prison. We have to break free of our worldview and allow ourselves to be open vulnerable again. Then we begin to build a new worldview, a new shell, a new spaceship, a new prison. Just as with the crab, the process repeats itself, for some of us, many, many times. Eventually, we may grow a shell that is so hard and thick that we can’t break free. That is the death of the mind.

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