His backyard was full of snails. Families and friends of all kinds. He loved to watch the shiny trails they made along the ground and up the trees and across the fence posts. He liked to watch their groups and see how fast they went and learn about what snails ate and what they did all day.
He knew there had to be a name for hanging out with snails but he couldn’t find one so he invented it. He was a Snail Farmer.
When one of the boys at school saw him watching the snails climb along the playground treehouse, he asked what Sebastian was doing. When Sebastian explained, he laughed. He asked Sebastian if he knew what happened when you put salt on a snail.
Sebastian didn’t so he went home and asked his mom. When he found out, he was horrified. What kind of person would do that to a snail?
Sebastian felt confused. He went outside to check on his snail farm and gently touched his finger to one of the shiny trails along the fence post. As he touched it, he felt a strange tug.
He quickly pulled his finger back but then narrowed his eyes in concentration and placed four fingertips along the shiny trail. This time the tug was so swift and sudden he had no time to pull back.
When he caught his breath and opened his eyes, he saw absolutely enormous blades of grass. All around him were his snails but most of them were bigger than he was. Confused, he looked up and saw his house looming giant in the distance.
Instead of feeling afraid, Sebastian felt curious. He talked to one of the snails and was amazed and delighted when they answered back.
Sebastian asked the snails all of his questions, even the ones he’d already learned the answers to. It was different to hear the snails tell him themselves. He learned all about their lives and their favorite foods and places to make shiny trails and how they chose their shells.
When it was time for Sebastian to leave, one of the snails offered him a shell of his own. Sebastian said he didn’t know how it would fit when he was big again but the snails explained that no one needed to see it but him.
The world needed more people like Sebastian, they said. People with curiosity and empathy who took the time to think and to learn and to care. But those people needed to protect their softness without ever losing it, just like the snails.
The shell wouldn’t keep the world out. On the contrary, it would keep Sebastian safe while he explored and created shiny trails of his own. He could look inside whenever he needed to take a deep breath and remember who he was and what really mattered and then he could come back out and move along in whichever direction he wanted, at whatever pace he chose.
Sebastian thanked the snails with all his heart and said he hoped he could come back to visit.
The next day at school when the same boy asked Sebastian if he’d learned about the salt, Sebastian answered that he had and that he thought it was one of the saddest, most awful things he’d ever heard. He explained that it took courage to care about things and a strong heart and mind to want to learn more about the world and work to make it better. Destroying something was terribly easy. But it was only the bravest of people who could help.
The boy got very quiet. Then he asked Sebastian what was so cool about snails anyway. Sebastian smiled. If anyone could explain what was so cool about snails, it was a Snail Farmer.
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