I’ve found the phrase, “The world is your oyster,” to be an especially handy one.
It can be used to motivate aspiring students who are about to encounter a seething mass of opportunities and seize their fortune. It can be used to let a recent retiree know that, now that he has disposed of his daily responsibilities, he has the time to pursue his dream of skydiving. It can also be used to inspire dictators in their vicious conquests or empower monarchs to continue oppressive regimes.
What a terrible use for a perfectly good phrase, you say? I assure you, there is an even more frightening side to this age-old idiom.
The fact is, the relationship between world and mollusk goes both ways. If one truly believes that the world is his oyster, then the oyster has become his world.
He is an oyster-man.
Come now, you say, who wouldn’t want the pearl at the center of the oyster? Whether that pearl is financial success, skydiving certification, or world domination, the ability to achieve such goals is the primary purpose of existence — the pearl is the only valuable thing worth pursuing, unless one is a seafood connoisseur.
I assumed you’d say that. The oyster-man would say something similar. Inside the oyster he doesn’t even realize there is anything apart from his fleshy surroundings.
That’s frightening. Bone-chilling. Scary enough to make a mollusk jump out of its shell.
Because guess what. The oyster is tiny compared to the world it inhabits.
What does the oyster-man know of the moon and tides? Can he even begin to imagine the creatures that roam the depths of the ocean? What of the minnows that swim the shallows, that brush up against the shell of his world at times? Surely he knows of them? No. The oyster-man cannot even understand the rock to which his home is fastened.
But here is the most terrifying part. Even if the oyster-man read this, even if he had everything laid out before him, even if the smallness of his oyster was revealed to him, he would still be clueless. He is stubborn.
“What a fascinating idea,” he thinks before moving on to something more practical. His job is calling, his dreams are calling, the world is calling. And so he moves closer to the center, eventually engulfed by rippling, oily flesh as he looks for the all-important pearl.
Farewell, oyster-man. I tried.