Big Loves

I used to wear a citrine ring.  Until that day, five years ago in June — at a family wedding.

The night of the wedding, after a good many glasses of champagne, my mother had pulled a coveted piece of jewellery off her finger and handed it to me.

Here, she said, I want you to have it.

My father tried to stop her, but he couldn’t.  The ring had belonged to my grandmother — my father’s mother — and upon her death, she’d gifted it to my mother.  Possessed by some charitable demon, my mother wanted to give it to me.  Seizing the opportunity I knew was not likely to come again, I accepted.  But in the process, I had to take off my own ring — an unremarkable, cushion-cut citrine — which was promptly…lost.

My (second) cousin Lara sometimes reminds me that we come from a line of remarkable women; tall women; women who were brave before their time.  I aspire to be like them.  There is a black-and-white photograph in my parents’ house of our grandmothers together — both prematurely white-haired; stately; impossibly beautiful.  Both having endured love and life and loss.  Both having carried on.

I thought about my grandmother quite a lot after my mother gave me the ring.  We had never been close.  I hadn’t even known much about her until one Thanksgiving when my father pulled me aside and told me that she’d been a woman of character; integrity; grace.  An independent woman who had travelled when women Did Not Do That; a woman who had worked and been successful when women stayed home.

Ironically, she and my ex-husband had shared a birthday.  And I had worn the citrine piece — November’s birthstone — until that day that my mother had gifted me the jewel.

Even after I lost my citrine, and even after I got divorced, I still wore orange-yellow stones in some shape or form.  And I have written before about the ways in which we keep the people we care about close — I had always chosen the permanence of stone.  Though perhaps it was, as Paul Simon once sang, a habit/like saccharine.  And upon reflection now, I wonder if it was more out of a sense of trying to cling to the shreds of an identity that was no longer mine.

Then, one day late last year, I took the orange rocks off my wrist.  I still wear my red ring, though.  I rarely take it off.

I think often about symbols and signs.  I think often about what things mean and don’t mean.  I try to make sense of a chaotic world.  Because…how else can we survive it?

And it wasn’t until just a week or two ago that I recalled that the red stone on my  hand was the birthstone for July.

July is strange — with its stinking, sucker-punching morning heat, and hazy New York City blue dawns where the sun comes up like a bruise spreading over the East River.  And July has its red and gold nights where the light aligns just-so through the buildings on the Streets.  It is when I always tend to go back to old and awful habits.

But I remembered, last year, that it was also the month that my mother’s father was born.

I loved my mother’s father — the man I called “Bop.”  When he died, I was furious because it was the week I finished law school.  I wanted to be fetted; congratulated; not forced to rush to the airport; not made to run to Florida.  But when I arrived in the swampy south, I’d found that his whole room was just mementos of me.  Photos; clippings; my graduation speeches.  Letters I’d written in my loopy little-girl hand.

They were tangible pieces of A Big Love.  So he’d left me something bigger, better than merely a phone call on my graduation day.  He’d chosen a graceful exit for himself; he’d left me evidence of the greatness of his love for me.  For years to come, and to this day, he finds a way to make himself known whenever the well of answers runs dry.

That is Big.

Relatedly, I had once talked about love with an old friend, and we had agreed that loving someone meant always loving them.  That it meant getting on a plane and going at a moment’s notice.  But we were both do-ers, and go-ers, and leave-ers.  We were both the sort for whom getting on a plane was spectacularly easy.

And then I said that maybe for me, getting close to someone meant being willing to sit still.  Getting up and going is a breeze when you are the sort who is always in motion.  Sitting it out is far harder.

And so I wonder, often, about Big Loves.  Symbols and signs.  I wonder about being in motion and sitting still.  Being in the right; being wrong.  Waiting.  I think about what it means to be Brave, and to be the sort of woman who lets the right things go, and keeps the right things close.

I think about being loved and loving; being part of a family of do-ers and show-ers; about being the kind of woman who wears this red ring.


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