Sorry for the unannounced hiatus from blogging, but mid-month I left the fair Garden State for a brief vacation in the Aloha State (yes, again: the line to envy me forms on the right, please). I’m back home, refreshed, a little less pale, but a lot lighter….in my wallet. While I was in Honolulu, I fell victim to a smiling Hawaiian huckster’s entreaty to buy an expensive bit of jewelry, but came away with an insight more valuable than any pearl necklace.
My friend Lisa and I wandered into the island’s famous tourist shop one afternoon in search of an inexpensive trinket to commemorate our trip. Before my sandal had fully crossed the threshold, a wily saleswoman in a gaily-colored Aloha shirt swooped in, acrylic-nailed talons unsheathed, and subtly steered me toward the jewelry case with the promise of a beautiful memento. “I’m just looking for a coffee mug,” I replied stubbornly, but she rejoined, “Oh, a necklace would be so much prettier. Just pick a key from this tray and see if it fits the lock on the treasure box.”
Reluctantly, I accepted a tiny silver key from the woman, inserted it into the treasure box lock, and saw the lock pop open. “Gee, what a surprise,” I thought. “I’d better back away quickly before my hard-earned dollars fly into the cash register.” I hesitated for just a moment, and the saleswoman smelled blood (or greenbacks). “Oh, yes,” she rejoiced. “Now you can pick the setting for a beautiful pearl.”
Okay, readers, here’s a fact: I don’t own any expensive jewelry, primarily because I don’t attend events which require formal wear. I also don’t attend any events which require formal wear, primarily because I don’t own expensive jewelry. (Careful, don’t get dizzy going in circles trying to figure this out.) “But I’ve passed the half-century mark now,” I thought. “Wouldn’t this be a great time to stop this circuitous logic and get a memento of the trip? Let me just look at the pearls. I can always say ‘no’ later.” (Apparently, a combination of sushi, sun, sand, and surf results in shopper naiveté.)
I walked towards the tray of mollusks in water and steeled myself for the upcoming negotiations. “Pick the ugliest oyster,” the saleswoman urged. “The uglier the shell, the more beautiful the pearl.” I chose the Quasimodo of them all, a mollusk of nondescript color and bumpy exterior, and waited for her to release the pearl.
I was not that lucky: this famous tourist shop assures its visitors undergo more humiliation first. The saleswoman handed me what looked like a putty knife and said, “Okay, take this, tap the shell three times and say ‘Alo-HA!’, and you can pry it open yourself.”
I unleashed The Look, heretofore kept under wraps on this all-too-civil island. You know The Look: it’s the one you give to that shopper with a full cart who tries to slink in front of you in the 12-items-or-less line at the supermarket. Yes, that look, loosely translated as “you have GOT to be kidding me…” which is encoded upon the DNA of native New Jerseyans at birth. But this female Hawaiian huckster, never having visited the Garden State, was invulnerable to The Look. “Go ahead, tap the shell,” she urged again.
I sighed, admitted defeat, and obeyed. “One, two, three,” I muttered as I tapped the shell with the putty knife. “And… ‘aloha’…” the saleswoman reminded me in a cheerful sing-song tone. “Aloha,” I replied softly as I rolled my eyes in embarrassment.
“Alo-HA!” the girl shouted, and rang a bell joyously. (Lisa, safe in the cheap-souvenir section of the shop, looked up with a bemused “better-you-than-me” smile.) The saleswoman, happy as a game show contestant who had just solved the final-round puzzle, pried open the ugly shell to reveal a shiny black pearl. Seconds later, she mounted the pearl in a sterling silver setting, slipped it onto a chain, and clasped it around my neck. The saleswoman guided toward a mirror to see the image of my very first expensive jewelry purchase nestled beneath my chin. With one fluid motion, this Hawaiian incarnation of P.T. Barnum triumphantly bagged the necklace, guided the pen in my hand to sign a credit card receipt, and bade me a happy “Mahalo! (Thank you!)”.
Later that night, when the fog lifted and I realized I owned an expensive necklace, I surfed the web to learn about pearls. These orbs are formed naturally when a small fleck of sand or other irritant becomes lodged in the soft tissue of a mollusk. As a defense mechanism, the mollusk secretes a smooth, hard, crystalline substance called nacre; surrounding the sand, layer by layer, a beautiful pearl is born.
Strange: the genesis of that object of beauty is an ugly irritant. It seems to be the opposite with me. When I harbor an irritant, resentment, grudge, or sin, I attempt to bury it under layers of denial. Nothing beautiful remains; rather, more ugliness is created and I am even more sin-filled. God’s grace, though always present, seems to take longer to penetrate the hard exterior, and I feel weary, depressed and alone.
“I’m going to try something new,” I thought as I gazed upon the pearl. I’ll keep the core of my inner pearl, my soul, filled with God’s love. I’ll surround it, layer by layer, with frequent prayer, I resolved, and fortify it with a more positive outlook. Friends who have seen me since my return have noted I looked happy and peace-filled, so perhaps my theory of nurturing the pearl within is valid.
There’s still one more problem: I now own an expensive necklace, so someone please invite me to a formal event where I can show it off!