If you’ve ever read any publication’s “Best Of” issue, know that in the end, it all comes down to the editors making the most well-informed, carefully considered, completely arbitrary decision they can. How is one to determine the ultimate cheeseburger, or end-all mascara, or band of the year? Every once in a while, you get your Beatles or your Joy of Cooking, but even their genius is, in the moment, rarely felt unanimously. And so it has been with the Girls of a Certain Age/Ten Thousand Things challenge, in which you were asked to describe the piece of jewelry that meant the most to you. There were over 200 entries, and from the first day—from the first few hours—I knew I was in for it. Your stories were so insightful, so moving, and so very often really funny that the notion of picking any one—or even any ten—as the very best became impossible to imagine. To be hideously trite for a moment, these stories are the stories of your lives, and quite often the very most dramatic moments of your lives: marriages, deaths, births, personal breakthroughs and difficult relationships at long last resolved. And good lordy, so much more. If you haven’t taken a look at all of the entries yet, by all means, do. They’re fascinating. You might cry.
As a typically very decisive person thrown into a vortex of indecision, this has been nothing short of torture. I actually called upon a couple of friends for input, and they made matters worse, disagreeing violently on my final choices. And so in the end, I went with one that felt particularly resonant, by a reader named Kim.
I’ve been given two pieces of jewelry in my life; both rings.
My parents had me when they were barely out of their teens. They were very young and were distracted by the things that they wanted to be and to do. Also, maybe they were too puzzled by the shy, moody, bookish girl that I was, to know what I needed. But my grandmother loved me unconditionally, fiercely. Although, out of necessity, she was frugal, when I was about ten years old, she gave me a gold ring, with a small topaz, my birthstone. I recall being disappointed that my birthstone wasn’t a sapphire, because blue was my favorite color and at first, I wore the ring mostly out of politeness. But, I came to love that ring. I wore it for years, switching it to different fingers as my hands grew. I remember looking down at the ring and seeing that the stone had fallen out, after so much wear. I found the stone later and put it and the ring in a box, vowing to one day have it fixed and resume wearing it. Decades later, despite my best efforts, that ring is long gone, but still with me as a reminder of being really loved, really treasured, during an otherwise difficult childhood.
The other ring was my wedding band, hastily purchased by my then soon-to-be husband, who was late to work and leaving me to finish the sales transaction, while he rushed off to a meeting. The marriage did not fare well and I stayed much longer than I should have. But, finally I got the courage to leave. I’d stopped wearing the ring years before leaving. I wasn’t married in the ways that most mattered to me and the ring had come to feel like a mockery of me and the person I’d become, the life that I had. Like the topaz ring, the wedding ring was put into a box. It wasn’t something I treasured, but I wasn’t ready to get rid of it. Then, while looking for hairbands, I was surprised to find the ring in a plastic shoe box. I knew I still had it, but had forgotten where I’d put it. Without further thought, I picked up the ring and tossed it into my kitchen garbage can. It felt good, freeing, forward looking.
So, for one ring, the magic was in the having and wearing; for the other the magic was in the gradual letting go.
Not the most upbeat story of the bunch, to be sure. But so many of you wrote about pieces given to you by parents and grandparents that brought you courage and strength or, like Kim, just reminded you that you were loved. So it felt right to pay tribute to that. And I admired the spirit of everyday fortitude in Kim’s story, because in many ways that is the most difficult kind to summon. I know that for many of you, the notion of tossing a perfectly good wedding band might seem like throwing money down the drain, but for me, that was part of what made the tale so human. Pieces that we attach meaning to often come to represent something quite different along the way, but the fact that this new meaning might be painful or sad doesn’t always make them any easier to part with. That she chose to put the band in the trash, as opposed to something more dramatic like tossing it off a bridge or throwing it into a fire, spoke to a woman at peace.
So congratulations, Kim. I’ll be in touch. The rest of you can have at me in the comments.