Recently, when I was describing to a friend the numerous challenges currently facing my family and myself, she rejected the metaphor I’d just used, saying, “No, not a car pile up, more like a jewelry box – with all those lovely pieces you just toss in that can’t do anything else but over time get tangled up. Think about the necklaces in particular: some of them costume and some not; some of sentimental value and others of actual auction-house worth. And then, of course, there’s the sapphire and diamond choker locked in a bank vault still in its leather box, which no one ever sees, let alone wears, and so is never going to be jumbled in with items of lesser worth.”
I was reminded then of one piece of jewelry in particular, given to me by my son. I think it was bought in Pilar, Argentina, from a market stall, together with a bright pink scarf. It was Christmas in a country some of us in the Northern hemisphere consider upside down—there it’s summer in our winter, 30 degrees Celsius instead of ice-cold with snow. What I liked most about this particular necklace, other than its being bought by my son as he grew up and navigated his own personal choices about what he liked or didn’t, what he thought might please someone else or not, was that it seemed to come already tangled up in a sort of off-kilter knot. The pretty silk scarf it rested on highlighted its gloriously random jumbled-ness.
On a tarnished, cheap link of coppery chain, ornaments were attached in no discernible order. There were shards of pink porcelain the size of rosehips; angular amethyst-like stones set alongside rough granular crystals that might have been mistaken for uncut diamonds but weren’t; translucent blue gems reminiscent of teardrops, apart from the odd one that looked like an ice cube tossed into space; and then the purple spheres embellished as if for a czarina, which upon closer inspection turned out to be bells patterned with tiny incisions. And scattered throughout this design-less design were the most diminutive purple-red lingonberry-like beads, so modest and unshowy as to be almost invisible. What a happy mess!
“What you have to do,” my friend gently encouraged me, “is to open the lid of that jewelry box – or scoop the jewelry off the mantel or dresser tops or wherever you have left it – and put it all in one place. Then, piece by piece, slowly unravel it. Like any challenge.” I thought about this and how usually I avoided decluttering my jewelry box like the plague. I was useless at it, especially if there was a knot in a fine gold chain. Impossible. No patience!
I have a handful of pieces I wear on a regular basis. My grandmother always advised: “Keep it simple—single strand of pearls, fine chain, discreet pendant, modest earrings—nothing religious.” Anything else she dismissed as vulgar and showy. It’s that fine chain I most detest unraveling—that and the walk down Memory Lane I’ll take while forcing myself to do it. Nestling in the box alongside—Pandora’s Box?— are so many reminders of different stages of my life: the string of porcelain beads from the Han dynasty, given to me as a reminder to be bold; the gold medallion my brother sent before his death, the harbinger of it; and the many hearts, in gold, glass or silver, given to me by father, son and husband as testaments of love, faith and/or their inability to think of anything else. “Each item,” my friend said, “should be picked up, polished and laid out separately. Only then will you know for sure what you have.”
I conceded she was right. It’s the time of year for taking stock, making an inventory and seeing things as they really are. Out withthe bad, cherish the good.I envisioned each piece of jewelry being carefully teased away from its fellows, wrapped in tissue or placed back in its own dedicated box: pristine, pure, separate. But then I recalled once more that wild and gaudy monstrosity bought one Christmas in Pilar, and saw things differently. A life that was packed, busy and sometimes snarled up… might that actually be equal to any pearl of great price in all its solitary glory?
You know, I decided, it just might.
Wishing you and yours a very Happy Holiday,