My daughters are rock hounds. They come home from outdoor outings pockets heavy with their treasures: sparkly mica, smooth pebbles, rocks shaped like hearts, mama! One afternoon last fall I took them to a gem shop I'd discovered and their jaws dropped at the sight of a room full of polished stones of every colour.
They are not terribly discerning in their selections, though, to my eye. Pale, dull, ordinary granite is as precious as glittering quartz and magical tigereye.
Which is how a chunk of concrete that somehow became detached from our front porch - no one knows how, mama! - came to decorate our bathroom shelf alongside an amethyst I purchased for a pretty penny. "Really?" I asked my daughter when she brought it to me, delighted at her find, before I swiftly shut myself up. She thinks it's beautiful - all the small stones bound together in shades of steel and mouse and storm - and that's all that matters.
Like I have with so many other works of young art and scavenging, I put the concrete on display to appease her. I don't have a home, to my mind. Rather, I have the pleasure of living in the home that belongs to my daughters. This home is the scene of their childhood, in significant part, and I aim to make it warm and safe and a reflection of them and our love. I'll have plenty of time to have a home of my own - with things 'just so' - when they grow up and leave me, a day that is coming far too quickly (sob). Until then, our home is their nest and they can weave it with whatever shiny things catch their crow eyes, whichever bits of concrete they pry loose, as far as I'm concerned.
But I've found, over these last few months, that my appeasement has slowly given way to appreciation, my eyes seeing beauty through hers. The stones are both precious - one by birth and one by my child's holy anointing - and they have come to serve as a reminder to look for the beauty in the everyday, to try to see the world as a child does, which is just as it is in all its splendour: wonderful and gorgeous without even trying. Worth a second glance.
The stones have also proven to have healing properties.
When the unusual pairing catches my eye, this Lauryn Hill lyric almost always floats to the surface of my mind:
"Don't be a hard rock when you really are a gem."
I've been a hard rock, lately. I've been closed off and shut down by circumstances both within and without. Depression blew down my door with the cold wind of winter, not as ferocious as in years past but still biting and ambivalent to my corner-cowering. My foundation has also been rattled by some upsetting interactions - one very personal, one professional, and one with a complete stranger - which all share the common thread of my words being taken by others not as they were intended, or with the benefit of the doubt, but instead, in twisted ways that formed spike strips, busting my tires and the self-belief they were inflated with.
Truth, or at least my best attempt to reach it, is the reason I write because it's the reason we're here. I wear my share of masks and utter pretty cover-ups, too, but the good stuff is always the raw, honest truth underneath what we manufacture. Life is about mining for that truth - for what is honest, for real connection - and vulnerability is truth's necessary companion; it's the rope down that chasm. It's slippery and knotted at uneven lengths or not at all for a stretch. It's a long way down and vulnerability is the only way to the bottom where the good stuff is waiting. But it comes with risk. The rewards are worth it, but the slip-footed fumbles make me question the expedition, sometimes.
Do I keep writing? I've asked myself. Do I keep telling my truth? Do I keep entrusting it to ears that may ring with judgments and malformed translations?
Do I turn bitter and angry? Do I turn away from those who have hurt me? Do I board up my heart?
I've been holed up these last few months, quiet with my questions and doubts. I've been hardening beneath their weight. The truths I want to tell - which are simple and concomitantly complex - have compressed smaller and smaller into a thin layer of exhausted meekness formerly known as ferocity.
Then, one recent morning, the stones caught my attention and the refrain again belted through my brain: "Don't be a hard rock when you really are a gem." This time, however, the soloist kept repeating: You're a gem, you're a gem, you're a gem, you're a gem, you're a gem.
You're a gem. And you need to shine.
The tectonic plates under my life shifted in that moment and there was a buckling in me. A new mountain range. These events are never really as sudden as they seem - they are the culmination of millions of moments - but the feeling that overcame me felt that way. I felt suddenly done. Done with ears that don't listen. Done with thoughtless broken telephone games that lead from careless ears to mistaken judgments on lips. Done with being a hard rock.
I'm going to shine.
I'm going to keep dangling on vulnerabilities. I'm going to load my pockets with the truths I find down the chasm, and I'm going to climb back up and shout, "Hey, guys! Come see what I found!" and speak those truths loud and clear.
I'm going to thaw my heart and forgive and give others the benefit of the doubt even when I feel they haven't done the same for me. I will meet callousness and carelessness with kindness. I will keep striving for connection.
The stones will remain on our bathroom shelf, lining our nest, a priceless art installation on the themes of beauty and strength. And when my eyes alight upon them, I will hear that familiar refrain and be reminded to shine.
I will feel beautiful in my shades of steel and mouse and storm. And on days when others see me as concrete, I will anoint myself as precious.