I'd like to take a moment to talk about you. Well, you and your jewelry. I want to address your apologetic, embarrassed smile when I ask if your bracelet has a special significance. And the way you step back, away from me and the counter, when you compare the ring you're contemplating with the one already on your finger. Or perhaps I'll address your lament that you never see your rings clean, and that you certainly don't want me to see them so filthy -- not even when I offer to clean them for you.
You may feel society's pressure to acknowledge that you and your spouse were "just a couple of kids" when you married, which explains the (supposedly) small size of your diamond engagement ring. You may feel it culturally appropriate to blame your (supposedly) "ugly" hands on age, arthritis, and a penchant for gardening without gloves, which of course is why you'd never try to wear a beautiful ring.
You do not need to apologize to me for your jewelry, and the faults in it that only you can see. Certainly you shouldn't feel that your precious pieces, each representing a particular moment in your life, are in any way more humble than the shiny new things in my cases.
The ring out of round and prongs worn down to nothing -- those represent a lifetime of wear, and they can be fixed. The bracelet links so fragile they feel like frayed cotton threads -- they lasted through two wars and a cross-country move, and they can be fixed. And oh, the damn clasp that you can just never do up yourself, so you leave the necklace on all the time even though it's uncomfortable -- your fingers ache, and a bigger clasp would help, and that can be fixed.
You come in, defensive and vulnerable, exposing your beloved memories to a young woman whom you think can't possibly understand, or won't even try. You don't have any expectation of compassion or respect, because you've been turned away so many times with a shrug and a callous "just buy a new one!"
You may even hear the same advice from me, eventually. But from me, it comes after all other options have been considered. It comes with an understanding that to you, the idea of taking apart this and making it into that will have to simmer for a while, and that if you're ready -- when you're ready -- you'll know.
Your life, your memories, lie in the bits and pieces laid out on the counter. To share them with a stranger takes a certain kind of courage, especially when the fear of harsh judgement or offhand hauteur makes you want to quickly snatch your pieces back before I can look more closely.
But I have learned, from the best of role models, to understand you. I have learned how to sense your fears, your frustrations, and those apologies spoken and unspoken. And I can only hope that when it's my turn to lay my life's treasures in front of someone else, that they have sensed my hesitations and questions, and will respond with their own compassion.