Many years ago, my grandmother’s grandmother turned 13. On that day, her father took her into town via horse and buggy, and bought her a tiny little ring, just perfect for her hand.
I do not know her name, and I am not even sure if it was actually my grandmother’s grandmother, or someone even further back than that, or merely my grandmother’s mother. I only had the story told to me once, on my 13th birthday.
On that day, I didn’t just hear the story. I also got the ring.
My mom gave it to me. She had gotten it from her mother on her 13th birthday, and her mother had gotten it from her mother, and so on. I had never even touched such a special piece of jewelry at that point in my life. I was awe-struck, but not because it was extravagant. I knew, even then, that the ring wasn’t worth much in monetary value. Still, it was precious.
But the full story now is lost, because I didn’t memorize it and no one else has the details. My dad can’t remember any more than I do. Mental illness claimed the lives of so many of my mom’s side, and anyone else who might know is long gone now, too.
I have been thinking about the ring a lot over the past few months. I’m astonished that I never lost it, that no one else ever lost it, that somehow it’s still around. I forgot the details of the story, but I didn’t lose the ring. And yet, since it wouldn’t get much money at a pawn shop, and I’ve forgotten much of the story, what is its value today?
I don’t know the women who came before my mom, not really. My grandmother was very mentally ill, and from what I remember, quite cruel to her only daughter. My mom wanted to break that cycle, and though she wasn’t perfect, she was always loving to me.
And so when I look at the ring, I don’t think of the generations of women who came before me. I only think of my mom. I remember how it felt to have her give the ring to me. I don’t remember the exact story she told, but I remember that her eyes brimmed with tears and that she hugged me, really tight. She knew I was growing up. I didn’t really understand what it meant to love a child, but I knew this one thing:
I knew she believed in me.
She believed in the promise of my future and in the life I was making for myself. She believed in who I was at my core, and who I might be, someday. I knew that, even then. Her love and her total faith in me was what I felt when she gave me that ring.
Maybe, then, the ring of our family isn’t about all the generations who’ve worn that ring. Maybe it’s part of a new story, one that my mom wrote about me, and one that I now want to write about you, Claire.
When you were a little girl, you used to spin around and laugh and laugh as little girls do, but that joy, that love of life – it didn’t end when you grew up a little bit. That spark, the one that makes people say, “Claire is such a beam of sunshine!” – it is still with you. I can feel it even when your teenage self is frustrated, and sometimes I can even coax it out in your unhappy moments. You see the joy that’s here in this world, even when you know the pain in it too. One night a few months ago I was sad, and you comforted me by hugging me tight, and then just a few minutes later you blasted the music so we could dance. You reminded me that being alive is magical, even when the world is rocky.
Sometimes, it seems as though you have no fear. You’ll jump off the highest diving board and plunge into an extra backflip even though you haven’t really mastered it yet. You can speak in front of hundreds of people and the face you show when you perform at cheer competitions or in musicals – it’s priceless. You may be nervous for the first day of class or sports practice, but you walk in with confidence. I really admire that in you.
But you are not naïve. You know that danger and sadness and bad things can be out in the world. You worry about the terrible possibilities that could be. And yet, you venture out into that same world anyway, every day. Even when you are scared. Even when you don’t know what might be. Even when you think you might fail. And you do it with a spark in your eyes and a big laugh just waiting to come out.
You do it all, because you believe that the world still holds so many good things. You see the sunshine every day, and you are delighted by the joys that exist in this sometimes unpredictable life.
This ring, I think, will be one of those joys for you. It is not even very beautiful, you see. It doesn’t sparkle or shine much, and it likely will only fit you for a short time.
But I know that you will look at it with joy, because that is who you are. You will say, “it’s beautiful” and I will probably cry.
Today, on your 13th birthday, the ring is yours.
It comes in a cute little box I found, all special and wrapped up, just for you. But really, it’s not the long-ago story or the physical object I’ll remember when I think about the moment that it became yours.
No, I’ll always remember something else: what it felt like to look at you at age 13, so full of promise and hope and joy. And I hope you remember this:
I believe in you.
Image Credit: Sharyn Peavey.