Amidst the multitude of wedding gifts which my husband and I received was one I set aside as insignificant. There among the crystal, china, silver, and the linens – so exciting in their purity and sparkle – the small box with the two tear-shaped prisms seemed sadly out-of-place. Now that I think back, I don’t even remember seeing them set out on the tables of gifts displayed at the reception; perhaps my mother herself thought them too small to display to the public.
I remember receiving them though, sitting on the couch and oohing and wowing at each beautiful gift box I opened at that one shower. My husband’s maternal aunt had given them to me, offering her gift in her shaky hand as if the contents of her box were as precious as the rarest and most fragile jewel she possessed.
“These have meant the world to me,” she said as I opened her box. “I always thank God for them each morning as I drink my coffee. I don’t know how I would have found my way without them.”
Not really listening, I looked at the sad teardrops nestled in the yellowing cotton wool, and, already having dismissed them, already looking forward to the next gift, I murmured out some half-gracious reply and promptly forgot them.
* * *
Weeks later, after the honeymoon, I found them again while unpacking in my new home. I am sorry to say that I nearly carried them to the barn and put them away in storage, but some memory stirred in my mind of the wistful joy I had half-heard in the voice of P.J.’s aunt as she offered me these bits of her life. I washed them carefully, took a bit of twine, and – more to please my husband by honoring his aunt than for any other reason – hung them from the curtain rod above my kitchen sink.
And then I forgot about them again. You see, the window above my sink faced east, and I have never been an early riser. So I would come into the kitchen each morning long after the splendor of the morning sun had passed, and I would see only two chunks of oddly cut glass which gathered dust hanging in front of my window. I wondered occasionally why they had been so special to my husband’s aunt. Had they been gifts from her husband? From a child? Or perhaps from a childhood sweetheart?
* * *
After our son was born, it became a tradition of mine to read morning prayer to him as he ate his morning cereal. Belted in his high chair, he was a captive audience, and he responded to this attention with coos of delight. As he grew older, outgrowing his high chair and his belt altogether, he outgrew this morning ritual too. By the time he turned two, I had stopped including him in my reading for the simple fact that he had finished his breakfast and gone to his toy box before I would have even finished the reading of a psalm. Even then, I began to anticipate having another child with whom I could resume this morning ritual. Little did I know then that my son’s ability to sleep in with me in the morning was an anomaly; not all infants are born as owls who sleep more deeply as the sun begins to rise.
My second child took after her father and chose to be a lark. Up at the slightest crack of dawn, she was impatient to get after everything the new day had to offer. I don’t remember ever drinking coffee in the morning before Lauren was born; I couldn’t have survived the mornings after her birth without it. Groggy and still half-asleep, I would carry her to her high chair in the dim half-light of pre-dawn, hang unsteadily to the handle of the microwave until her bottle and cereal was ready, and then slump into my chair with a comforting cup of warm, milky coffee in my hand. Yet even in those painfully early hours, I hoped to recapture those joyful prayer sessions with my daughter, and when the warm caffeine began to flow through my veins, I would open my prayer book and try to begin.
Oh, alas, for young parents who expect all of their children to be alike!
Where my son had been attentive, my daughter was restless. Where my son had been welcoming and malleable, my daughter was fiercely independent and well set in her opinions by the age of three months. Where my son had had the attention span of a well-intentioned adult, my daughter was frankly disinterested within a matter of minutes. So much for recapturing the joy of communal prayer in the pre-dawn hours! As she fussed, I became more frustrated.
Then one spring morning, angrily giving up on yet another frustrating attempt to read even the opening collect of the office, I heard her coo with delight. Looking up, I saw her reaching for my coffee mug with a look of joy and fascination. There on my mug, covering my mug, dancing even in its interior rim, were rainbows. The morning sun had pierced the window over my sink, and shining through the two dull prisms hanging there had made my coffee, my kitchen into a wonderland.
We shared that morning simply the joy of the rainbows. I would chase them for her or make them dance madly by spinning the crystals in the window. She would laugh in peals of glorious, musical laughter at the swirling colors around her. Those rainbows brought us together as nothing in the months prior had, and as the rainbows in my coffee became a morning ritual for us, we learned to love each other more each day.
I would like to say that on that first morning I had a revelation about the prisms, but that would be untrue. Over the years, as I sipped my milky coffee or made the prisms dance in the sunlight for my daughter, I thought about them, and only slowly did I come to understand what they mean to me and what a gift I was given on that long ago wedding day.
Those rainbows helped me understand the relationship I had not only with my daughter, but also my son, my husband, and all of the members of the community of God who I encounter in my journey through creation.
I came to understand that I was wrong to look to my daughter to be the reproduction of her brother or the replica of myself. We were all of us, different as we were, like three adjacent facets on one of those prisms. We thought we knew clearly where our boundaries lay, where she or he or I began and ended, yet we did not know the greater things. We had forgotten that we were not the maker of the prism, nor the source of the light which shone through us.
Long before our awareness even began, greater hands had taken a clump of wet sand and subjected the mud to so intense a fire that the sand was purified into crystal clarity. Loving, unknown hands had carved this crystal to a design that only the maker fully understood, shaping each facet to reflect its own and individual beauty and binding each facet to its neighbors to create a greater beauty than any facet could present on its own. A powerful and joyful light shone though us, giving us the ability to each, in our own way and in our own turn, release a small part of the great spectrum of that light into the world around us.
It is an uncomfortable fact of life that as we grow older we can no longer sleep in as we did when we were younger. My bed no longer feels as comfortable to my fifty-year old arthritic body as it did when I was twenty, and so most mornings for several years now, I have been up and watching the rainbows in my coffee. On most of those mornings, I see in my coffee those colorful reminders of the covenant of love which binds all of us in creation. I believe that this daily reminder of God’s love for me, of my relationship to his other creatures and my fellow men, and of the precious gifts which he gives each of us to share with the world, has helped me be more loving and patient whenever trouble or discord has developed in my relationships.
I think now, on my daughter’s distant wedding day, I will take these crystals down from my window and carefully pack them in cotton wool in a beautifully wrapped box. And then I will offer them to her as though they were the most rare and precious jewels I possess. “Take them,” I will say. “These have meant the world to me; I always thank God for them each morning as I drink my coffee. I don’t know how I would have found my way without them.”
I hope she will find the message in them that I found, and that she will be as grateful some day as I am now when I remember that dear, wonderful aunt of my husband’s whose hand shook as she offered her greatest gift to me.