September 12, 2018"If you don't crack the shell, you can't eat the nut."
That old proverb stares back at me from a prominent spot on my office wall.
As simplistic as it seems, I find that it's a good reminder of the challenges and rewards of digging into the heart of things.
Especially when it comes to people. We're all coated by a shell—sometimes one that has taken years to develop. Like layers of paint swabbed over an old window pane, it's created one dab—or jab—at a time. It dries and hardens with each experience, and the more layers there are, the more difficult it becomes to open the window.
I'm not saying that's all bad, either. A closed window keeps out the rain of sadness. It wards off the cold winds of a broken heart. It keeps everything inside just exactly as it is—familiar, orderly, safe.
But when the window's stuck shut, it stifles the fresh breeze of new experience, the sunny warmth of a surprise encounter. When the window's closed, whatever's inside must be viewed from a distance, may be distorted by the seer's own reflection, always remains out of reach—unless someone comes along and shatters the glass.
Somehow cracking a shell sounds a little less threatening, though. Chipping away bit by bit takes skill. And patience —any old hack with a fist or a hammer can shatter the glass. Peeling back the layers, however, requires a gentle touch and an open palm.
I much prefer to be the one wielding the nutcracker than the one being chipped away at. It can be difficult being exposed bit by bit, uncomfortable, scary, and not as enlightening as getting to the meat, so to speak, of someone else.
Because I'm not perfect at my core, I accept that some nuts will be flawed, too. It doesn't make me any less hungry for whatever is inside the shell. Curiosity, and the basic human need to connect, to reap the rewards of cracking the shell drives me, drives many of us, I'm sure. After all, "if you don't crack the shell..."
There have been times when I wish I would have skipped trying altogether. The effort has yielded nothing but sore hands and a sour taste in my mouth.
The barbed wire of someone's insecurity that was carefully covered by a wall of serenity.
A bitter core cleverly masked by piety. A wailing, spoiled child covered in a veneer of experience and capability. A rotten center shrouded by feigned concern. An empty shell, hollow and dark as a barren cave.
Still, I can't retire the hammer because sometimes the nuts are really, really sweet.
The tender-hearted soul hidden beneath a jagged wall of machismo. The startling beauty of unfettered honesty. The clown that reveals herself from behind a veil of propriety. The healer in disguise, the old soul in new skin, the misunderstood saint covered in an unconventional shell.
The sweet, sweet discovery that someone's not who they appear to be.
The mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of open conversation. The delicious reward of digging out a connection, and the feast of friendship that follows.
So, despite the sour ones I've run across here and there, I'll keep my nutcracker handy—even if it is in the shape of a pen—and continue to chip away. Like everything else in life, some nuts are poison; some are really sweet. Email Catherine at
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.