Nikumaroro Island, which sits in the Pacific Ocean approximately at the intersection of the equator and the International Date Line, is not only one of the most reliably warm places on our planet and one of the first to witness the dawn of each new day, but is also home to a colony of gargantuan coconut hermit crabs.
As a child vacationing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I brought home the occasional hermit crab, but never one who grew to be wider than three feet across as these crabs can. I remember my mother’s warning me about the surprising power of the hermit crab’s claw. I expect she would have admonished me all the more strenuously had my pet been a coconut crab, whose claw can exert 3,300 newtons of force. A tiger’s jaws produce a mere 1,500.
In writing about hermit crabs in the pages of the London Review of Books earlier this year, however, Katherine Rundell observed that “even monsters start small.” Several months into their lives, coconut crabs are still only big enough to inhabit the littlest of shells. That their growth requires them to occupy and then vacate a succession of ever larger shells is one of the challenges of life in a hermit crab’s skin. Or exoskeleton, I suppose.
Help avails in community. “Hermit crabs are not, in fact, hermitical,” writes Rundell. “They’re sociable. When a crab comes across a new shell [that is] too big, it waits for another crab. If that crab also finds it too large, it joins the first crab, holding onto its claw until a queue develops – [up to] twenty crabs, arranged in order of size from smallest to largest, each holding onto the next. When at last a crab arrives who can fit the vacant shell, the first crab in line claims the new crab’s former shell, and there is a flurry of crabs climbing into their neighbour’s home.”
A privilege of my office is the connections it affords me with our most veteran alumni and our youngest students alike – members of our MICDS family who were 5 years old in 1940 as well as members who are 5 years old in 2020. I recall once being told, in connection with the study of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, that “all conflicts are intergenerational.” It is a hyperbolic claim, of course, but nevertheless one that has troubled me frequently since hearing it made. I have often wondered whether it is essentially true. Perhaps it is, but perhaps its antitheses are true as well. Perhaps “all collaborations are intergenerational” and “all communities are intergenerational,” too.
How like ever-evolving hermit crabs we are at MICDS, simultaneously providing and assuming each other’s legacies year by year – our good and nurturing shells – as we grow in community together. In this issue of our magazine you will discover stories of older students supporting and mentoring younger students, both within and beyond the bounds of our school, and you will read about several notable alumni whom we have honored for their achievements and invited back to campus to speak with and inspire our current students. We are so fortunate to inhabit a school community in which giving back is endemic. At MICDS, we get because we give.
I am fond of proclaiming that I want MICDS to be the happiest school in St. Louis, but just this once, with a nod to our crustaceous counterparts on Nikumaroro, I will say, too, that I want us to be the crabbiest school. Here’s hoping that this issue of our magazine finds you comfortable in your present shell, grateful to those who have passed it along to you, and humbled at the opportunity to pass it along in turn. Happy spring!
Head of School