Not long ago, while working at a small bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I met the girl I will soon marry. She worked in the café nestled off in the corner of the store, and I spent days pining away for her without ever getting up the courage to actually float a single word her way. My stubborn pledge never to drink coffee only further complicated matters. After a few weeks of this, I had an unusual stroke of luck when she walked up to buy a book at my register. I tried to make small talk about her purchase, a Hebrew dictionary. “Ah, you’re learning Hebrew,” I offered pathetically. She nodded, before adding, “I’m moving to Israel next week …”
So things don’t always quite work out the way we plan, and Catherine flew away. But I didn’t forget her, and in her own good time she returned from the biblical land of Judea and we went about the business of falling in love. We soon discovered it was not a minor sort of love, and decided we better quit living in sin and get hitched.
Somewhere between “Will you?” and “I do” comes the engagement ring. We decided to shop for it together because we’re both smart enough to know I would have screwed it up otherwise. I have to admit, I never understood the concept of assigning even a pretty rock so much worth. Sure, a diamond is beautiful and it is forever, as we are told incessantly by subway ads and television commercials. But if beauty alone satisfied, I could get her a cubic zirconium the size of the Hope Diamond for thirty dollars. And so what if a diamond is forever? I’m not forever. She’s not forever. Why should the ring be?
A diamond looks like any other rock until it is cut at certain angles to “produce maximum brilliance” and “fire.” This is the kind of folklore you learn when dealing with jewelers, a breed of human being so dubious in character that they actually bring to light the virtues of used car salesmen.
Here’s the modus operandi: The jeweler smiles and shakes out several glittery stones onto a piece of black cloth. The stones all look the same, but seem to have been priced by a paranoid schizophrenic, sans any rhyme or reason. I look over at Catherine, the love of my life, to smirk and roll my eyes, but she is hypnotized by this evil jeweler’s magic stones. I challenge the ostentatious, greasy young man. “I don’t see any difference,” I say. “Of course you don’t,” he replies, producing a funny little head dress with magnifying glasses for eyes. Catherine puts it on, and the jeweler begins walking her through microscopic imperfections in the stones. When I try to point out that neither we, nor any of our friends or family, have superhuman vision, and thus maybe we could just get some sort of “average human being” bargain stone, the jeweler says solemnly, “But surely you want something nice.” I have to hand it to him. The guy knows his game.
A day or two after we put money down on a ring, Catherine learned that her mother wanted to give us the engagement ring of Catherine’s grandmother, Ruthie, who had recently passed away. The next day we put the kibosh on the fancy diamond we had ordered and instead had Ruthie’s diamond set in a band along with a couple of smaller diamonds on both sides. Of course, by the time that worm jeweler got finished cleaning and setting it, the damn thing cost as much as a brand new ring. But that was all secondary. We had something unique and meaningful, even if it might not be something that stands up under the harsh purview of magnified eyes.
And this is why I’ll gladly spend the rest of my life with this woman. She is able to recognize the diamond in the rough, or at least ignore the rough in the diamond. Likewise, she is able to overlook all the things I muss up, all the imperfections that cloud my life. I’d overlook her imperfections, if I truly believed she had any.
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