Friday, August 8, 2014

Precious Gems, What we are, What we may Become

My dear, late mother Ann appreciated jewelry. She would peruse garage sales and flea markets for real precious stones, gems and fine metals such as gold and silver. Many times when I was out of school during the summer she would drag me along for my keen, young eyes. I would read the markings and engravings at the ends of clasps and inside rings. She bought broken items and tangled necklaces many times. Some evenings we’d sit around our kitchen table with my father, repairing and untangling the pieces. Frequently my mother would carry out her jewelry box and fix her own favorite items.

My parents would smile at each other and tell stories about some of the pieces: The time my dad bought her ring or when he brought back pearls from Japan, purchased during his stint in the Navy. I learned a great deal from these evenings, not just in relation to jewelry and gemstones, but also concerning life and the individuals we meet. During these jewelry repair evenings, my dad would tell stories. I learned that there are plain-looking rocks called geodes that have precious crystals inside. If we just crack the ugly crust we can see the sparkling insides. Some people are like that. Once we break through the outer layers, there may be a shining beauty inside that we did not expect to find! Likewise, gemstones need to be tumbled continuously with a substance called grit until a beautiful, precious stone is revealed. Many of us go through our mortal existence, getting tumbled around; the grittiness of life sometimes hurting us deeply until the day that our true beauty shines forth at the end of our trials. Growing up, I felt that I wasn’t as pretty or fashionable as the other girls. My dad explained that I was a diamond in the rough. He said that when he was a young boy, his mother told him that beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone. If someone is rotten inside, no matter how you try to dress it up and paint it, their foul, repulsive core remains in there. My father said that I was good inside and beautiful on the outside, too. He said all I needed was a little polishing and that would come in time. The boys couldn’t see that yet; but the right man would, someday.

My mother was especially fond of her strands of pearls. She said there were plenty of fakes out there: glass beads and plastic that held no value past the fondness we might hold for a souvenir or the person that gave it to us. Likewise there are people who might want to make themselves look special to fool us, but inside they are fake and hollow. They just want to fool the world. They have nothing worthwhile inside themselves to offer other folks. My mother warned me even then to be wary of fraud and individuals who lie in wait to cheat. She went on to teach me about real pearls. I learned that at the center of each pearl, there is a grain of sand or some other irritant that causes the small sea animal that harbors the piece of offending matter to produce layer after layer of nacre. That minute thing becomes a pearl and is later harvested. It is considered a precious item of natural beauty. We may also have a little something that irritates us and we too can make the best out of it, creating a thing of precious splendor. We can do this by having a positive attitude in the worst of circumstances. I know when I was younger, I hadn’t yet learned this virtue.

In the early 1980s my parents and I went to a gem and jewelry show at Detroit Michigan’s Renaissance Center. We spent the weekend shopping for unique stones and things. My parents brought something else home instead. The first day of the exposition, we spoke to a young woman from Arkansas who clearly had her hands full. She was minding her table and wares all by herself and could barely manage to keep her toddler out of trouble. The lady explained that her husband was busy back in Arkansas struggling in his new-found ambitions and political career. It was only the beginning of the weekend and the woman could barely keep up with her small business and hobby, let alone tend to a baby at the same time. People were stepping over her busy little girl, giving mean looks and nearly tripping over the child. The baby had by that time found some electrical cords and was trying her best to pull them apart. My dad picked the little imp off the floor. The baby turned to stare at him and pat his face. With the mother’s blessings, I was handed the toddler and reluctantly ended up carrying her around the show. Since I was the youngest child of the youngest child in my family, I wasn’t used to babies and I couldn’t see anything positive about this experience. The baby did not have a stroller and was heavy in my arms. She was smelly and messy, too. We were shocked and amazed that this woman would let total strangers leave with her baby, but she was overwhelmed and felt we were good people and could be trusted. (Of course we were.) The woman had so much faith in my parents that in the evening she handed us a diaper bag and we got to tend the child in our own home. That Sunday afternoon, the last day of the show, we returned the baby to her mother. For a couple months after the event the woman frequently corresponded with my family, thanking us for watching the baby. I learned that helping someone in need was more important than finding a great bargain at some vendor’s table. I discovered that to be trustworthy and to serve are crucial to one’s character.

After that gem show, my father made a goldstone choker for me that I still have today. More importantly, I often wonder about that little family. At some point during our evenings, my mother taught me about gold. She explained that just because something looks like gold, it might not be. Back then in the seventies and even decades before then, many items were gold-plated. Later some pieces were labeled “gold-filled” which really means, “gold that is filled with some other material”. She said that inside all that shiny yellow metal was something worthless and cheap. On the other hand, many jewelry buyers think what they are buying is pure gold. They want that pure gold wedding band and a big, fat diamond engagement ring. What they really want is 18 Karat or even the slightly more durable and popular 14 Karat gold. These varieties have other metals – alloys --blended with gold to make rings, necklaces and bracelets stronger and wearable.

This past weekend in church, our Relief Society* President, Laura, was leading a discussion on choices and accountability. We can all make choices. We become stronger individuals when we have the opportunity to choose, but all actions have consequences, both good and bad. Laura said she knew that she was not perfect, but she was trying to be as pure as she could. She encouraged us all to try our best. I raised my hand and asked her if she was trying to be like pure gold. She smiled and said that, yes, she strives to be. I explained that she should attempt to be more like 14 Karat. Life’s experiences are like the alloys that make gold stronger; otherwise we would be too soft and of no use. Some people around us might even be 18 Karat and that is good. They have just enough of life’s lessons (or alloys) to make them strong. These individuals are the purest of the pure despite the realities of existence here on Earth. I think that as we become older we have the opportunity to learn more lessons. These opportunities make us what we are. We remain precious but we also become fit for the task of serving one another, lifting our sisters and brothers up with the inner strength that comes from enduring. I just hope that when push comes to shove, we as sisters won’t be some silver-plated or gold-filled cheapened piece of costume jewelry, harboring some poisonous heavy metal inside. Those are the kind of people that will smile in your face and stab you in the back, and as the scriptures say, from such turn away (2nd Timothy 3:5 KJV Holy Bible).

We can only do so much and be so much; striving for pureness and all the while we know that in the end Jesus will craft of us what He will. The Refiner’s fire will make us pure in the end for His needs. In the meantime, stay gold. Stay precious. * * (Founded 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, The Relief Society is one of the oldest organizations for women in the world and has approximately 6 million members in over 170 countries and territories.)

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