“I don’t know what you’ll think of this,” she began. “They told me at the quarry that this was the one, the one they’d pick. It’s a very special stone, so if you don’t want to wear it, put it aside in a safe place.”
It was the one. I loved it. The back side was flecked slate gray. The smooth cut side flashed an azure light, from a crevasse slashing across it.
Soon after receiving this gift, I found myself entangled in a maze of medical tests and facing a big, difficult, preventive, and ultimately successful surgery. Looking back, I am astonished at how quickly I was jerked from my usual, grounded self into floundering and fearfulness.
As I struggled to regain a foothold on familiar terrain in my mind, the color azure kept appearing. When I played the visualization tapes I borrowed from my doctor’s office, it was azure light that filled each limb, pushing the bad energy out, as the recorded psychotherapist directed. When I closed my eyes during yoga, an azure beacon appeared just between my eyebrows. When I became friendly with an Ethiopian Muslim woman who had the same doctor I did, she asked right away, “What’s your healing color? I’ll send it to you during your surgery.” Without hesitating, I told her. The question would have baffled me a year before. Right then it felt perfectly normal.
I wasn’t sure what to make of all this blueness. Anything I knew of chakras or color therapy or gemology was vague, dilettantish. But I definitely felt something, whether it came from simply squeezing my eyes too tightly or from my consciousness touching a divine light, connecting with all the love my friends and family were showering on me.
I began wearing the opal all the time. There was another, practical, more “me” reason, too. The loop connecting the opal to the chain was larger than the chain’s clasp. If I didn’t hold tightly to both ends while taking it off, the opal slid off the chain. Leaving it on was safer.
Over time I noticed some of the metal parts were weakening, with all the wearing. I fixed one link with needlenose pliers. Then, on a winter vacation, I noticed the loop attached to the gem seemed a little wobbly, but just a little. I’d take it to the jeweler when I got home.
That evening I put my hand up to the chain. The opal was gone. I threw off my winter layers, searching among the folds of fabric. The opal was gone.
In the dimly lit Vermont vacation house, I had no chance of finding it that night. And in the dusky light outside, snow was falling gently.
I hadn’t gone far that day. But I had taken the dog for a walk down the rutted dirt road called Cow Path Forty. And I’d done a lot of sledding—or, as they say in Vermont, sliding. On the south side of the lawn, where tall pines shaded the winter’s meager snowfall, I’d cut a beautiful sliding path. Other years, the snow had been too deep for good sliding, so we’d gone to the municipal park, packed down by new sliders every day. With my own hill, I could let the dog run free and chase me, and I could schuss as fast as I wanted, without worrying about death-wish testosterone cases or hapless toddlers crossing my path. I had gone down the hill a lot of times.
A sick hollowness crept inside my throat. As the evening wore on, I kept reminding myself to push it out, like the bad energy.
The east side of my friend’s vacation house is all glass, facing Mount Monadnock in the distance. At a certain moment each morning, the sun surges over the windowsills with the force of a penitentiary searchlight. More effective than any alarm I know, the indoor temperature soars twenty degrees within minutes.
I welcomed the light and warmth, but not with sun salutations that morning. My eyes scoured the floors. I yanked on my clothes.
A thin layer of snow coated the ground. If the opal had fallen while I was walking under a pine bough, perhaps I could find it. But most of my previous day’s path was open. If it had fallen while I walked on the driveway or road, it was a coin toss which side would be up: the flashing-blue front or the slate-gray back, nearly identical to the gravel.
Like most mothers, I’ve gotten to be a pretty good finder of small objects—puzzle pieces, doll shoes, contact lenses. I kept my eyes down, brushing the new snow gently from the crust. I took another run down the sliding path and brushed the snow away from the bottom of the hill to the driveway. Then I trudged back up, increasingly discouraged by how closely the gravel resembled the stone’s back side.
Halfway up, under a little pine tree, an azure gleam leaped up at me. The opal had landed right side up in a clear spot in the gravel. I had found it. The light that had filled me during visualization; the moment my doctor had said you’re fine, really fine, go out and live your life and think of yourself as perfectly fit; and joy, pure joy—suddenly it was all bursting inside of me, filling the hollowness I’d felt the night before.
I felt like the shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness to find the one lost, or the woman with ten silver coins who lights her lamp and sweeps her house till she finds a lost coin, then calls together her friends and neighbors to rejoice.
I called my mother to tell her the story. She declared it a miracle. I wasn’t so sure. The miracle I needed would have been a year without losing anything I loved.
What I know is this: Just as the azure crevasse in my opal is an illusion, so too is believing that I can hang on to the things that are precious to me. The miracle is having what we find beautiful, the people we love, and our very lives for the time we do, though it may be as fleeting as the snowfall.