What Takes My Breath Away

With Valentine’s Day less than a week away, dazzling jewelry overtakes department store displays. Stones are mined from the earth and affixed to metals that humanity have dubbed precious … yet a simplistic combination of the right gem and ore has the potential to take my breath away. For me, the most treasured of my jewelry are those pieces that tell a story.

Jewelry is to me what football is to Charming. They are both, ultimately, forms of entertainment. The way he gets excited when his team gets a first down is the way I feel when I finger Grandma Theresa’s ruby ring on my hand or the amethyst earrings Dad gave me for Christmas a decade ago. Football is the story of winning and losing. The conflict in between is what makes it worth watching. Jewelry is the story of giving and loving, but it too is not without conflict.

A man broke his TV this weekend when his favorite costumed men failed to cross enough white lines. If we remove sentiment and emotion from the game, as we have with the stones and metals, it is an amazing phenomenon that we would feel as great a sense of emotion towards these things as we do toward Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

But where human lives intersect, whether with jewelry or football, meaning is created that is apart from the design or the game. I found myself cheering on a quarterback in what might be his final game. When he triumphed, I was genuinely happy for him. Before that, I was nervous and excited and worried for him as the conflict unfolded. Individual people are what make the game worth our passion, like for me with sentimental items of jewelry.

We are, in part, conditioned to respond to the right combination of anything with passion. Last summer, I analyzed hundreds of online dating profiles, engaging in communication only when the man represented in the profile met a strict list of criteria. It was exhausting and even disheartening, at times. I thought, “I’m finally old enough to know what I want in a man, and he’s not on the market!”

I took a road trip with a friend to escape the string of dating debacles that were my first two attempts. On Fourth of July weekend, we found ourselves in Charleston’s open air market, and I was determined to buy myself a right hand ring. Because there is conflict in jewelry. For a long time after my divorce, I wore my wedding band on my other ring finger. It was, after all, the prettiest piece I owned, and I had, after all, bought it myself in the first place.

My teacher friend Ariel says there should be a company that facilitates the exchange of post-break up jewelry. At Christmas, I gifted her a butterfly pendant that my ex-husband gave to me that I had never worn. She wears it now, because in her own separation woes, she can no longer wear the pendants her husband had given her. I smile every time she waltzes into my classroom with it around her neck. Butterflies represent new life, and never more so than on Ariel.

When I was ready to cut ties completely to the last decade of my life, I sold my wedding rings, rings that at one time took my breath away. What I was looking for in that open air market was my Independence Ring. It would be the first piece of jewelry that I had bought for myself in half a decade, and its story would be of a woman who was contented to be at peace alone. I’d never have to stop wearing this ring.

My friend had the patience of Job. I paused at every display. More than a dozen times, I thought I’d found what I was searching for only to handle it and find the ring would come up lacking. Not the right shape, size, or color. After an hour of browsing where I’d almost given up, I found it in a little air-conditioned shop hidden away in the market. A white gold band with a pale blue aquamarine stone set amidst diamond chips. If only a match on eHarmony could have fit my future mate criteria as seamlessly as this piece fit my Independence Ring requirements.

Charming and I found ourselves back in that same little shop in Charleston after our cruise last month. I told him I was looking for a pendant like my ring, something I would wear every day. For my birthday two years ago, my ex-boyfriend gave me one that I didn’t take off until I knew it was over. When I wore it, I knew I was his girl. When I wasn’t his girl anymore, I couldn’t bear to see it reflected in the mirror.

Having always felt rather naked without a necklace on, I had some filler pendants that had little meaning connected to them which were suitable for everyday use (meaning they go with everything). To me, finding a new pendant in the same spot as my Independence Ring on New Year’s weekend with Charming at my side seemed like the perfect story.

Charming and I left the market sans necklace, but not empty handed having found little gifts for friends and family along the way. He understood that I would know the pendant when I saw it, and I never did. If anything, because of Charming I understand that being unwilling to compromise on criteria works out for the best. I didn’t buy a necklace that day, but navigating the same crowded, narrow aisles with Charming as six months before during my respite from the disillusionment of online dating painted the stark contrast of my life then and now.

I gave up my wedding ring when I was ready to cut ties with my past. I bought a right hand ring when I was ready to commit to my future. During Sunday’s sermon on love and dating, tears were silently streaming down my face. I couldn’t control them. Preaching from Song of Solomon, the pastor was drawing parallels for how to make a marriage thrive. I was overtaken by sentiments I couldn’t articulate to Charming until hours later when my birthday weekend would come to an end.

I had let my marriage die. I hadn’t treasured it like Solomon. I saw it as the next step in a life plan, not the perfect combination. We are conditioned to respond to the right combination of anything with passion. Charming was beside me in that church. I let my marriage die. I certainly didn’t deserve another man in my life that was everything I had ever dreamed of, and I was overcome with gratitude for the grace that would allow me to rest my head on his shoulder in that moment.

Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. I don’t deserve Charming, but I’m perpetually launched into a state of gratitude because I know his value. My birthday weekend was meaningful because of intersections with him. When prompted to unzip the returned tupperware container I had sent home with leftovers for Charming last visit, I found a little black box.

Inside was a pendant: a white gold droplet with a pale blue aquamarine stone framed by diamond chips. Clearly, Charming pays attention to details. The glittering combination of gem and ore took my breath away.

The most important lesson I’ve learned so far in five days of age thirty-three is we come to most cherish and value those things for which we must wait. In the waiting is the conflict that makes us all the more certain of what we want. Then when we see the right combination, we just know. And it takes our breath away.

He takes my breath away.

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