Charms and Talismans

I think talismans are underrated carriers of blessings in our lives.     Rev. Tom Owen-Towle

Wonder Woman has her magic bracelets and special tiara.  Some superheroes have special rings.  They provide power, strength and the ability to perform super human feats.  But I think even we mere mortals all have talismans of one sort or another.

Think about it.  You may have a favorite ring that was given to you by your mother.  You wear it often.  It reminds you of how much she supported you when you were young.  When you wear it, you feel loved and supported, like you can succeed at almost anything.  You may wear a wedding ring in a similar way, never taking it off, even long after a spouse has died.  Or you might have a favorite pair of cufflinks, a watch, or a military medal, passed down from your father to you.  They remind you of bravery, courage and the importance of fighting for causes you believe in.  If you are a woman, you might have a red power suit.  When you wear it, you feel energized, able to leap through executive glass ceilings in a single bound.  You wear it when you have to give an important presentation to the CFO.  Or you may wear it to an interview, confident that it will help you present the best “you” possible.  Channeling Gloria Allred.

Or maybe the talisman is the thought or mental image of a person: a parent, a mentor, a spouse, a teacher, a trainer, a coach.  Just thinking of the person, who is your supporter and cheerleader, gives you the courage and resolve to keep going, try something new, be inventive, take risks.  Or it could be the image of a place, a place that is special or magical to you, like a memory of summer camping near a special lake, a woodland clearing, a hike near Half Dome, parasailing over a Hawaiian island, making a parachute jump.  These memories can be thrilling, calming, exhilarating, energizing, uplifting, transformative or spiritual.  We recall them at will and they transport us from the cell phone cacophony, traffic, sports bar dins, insanity of quarreling family members, and the often unrealistic expectations of driven bosses that populate our everyday world.  We recall them at will as we fall asleep and they may haunt our dreams.

One friend of mine shared such a special memory involving his first real job, his dream job – working at Disneyland.  He recalls a time when he worked late one night, sweeping up and cleaning after the park closed and his shift was over.  He left a custodial area behind the scenes near the castle, walked toward the front of the castle, and then on down Main Street.  He noticed that all the lights were still on.  The lights in the trees glowed, the street lamps, shop lights, all were lit up.  And he looked around and realized that he was the only one there, not another employee in sight.  How special – Disneyland all to himself.  During the day the park is throbbing with people, noisy, pulsing, jostling, sometimes oppressively so.  But for this one brief moment as he walked down Main Street, it was his, all his.  He felt it was really special and a moment he promised never to forget.  And now he can recall it at will.  It will always be with him – his own private Disneyland.  A child’s dream, an adult memory.

I recently fashioned a sort of talisman of my own.  I asked a friend who had taken a round-the-world special tour to bring me back a black pearl from Tahiti.  She complied.  It was a nice one, good sized and close to flawless.  I kept it for a couple years before deciding what I might do – incorporate it in a ring, a pendant, what exactly?  Finally, I took it to my favorite jeweler in Laguna Beach and also took in my mother’s rings, her wedding set.  I asked the jeweler to design a pendant that incorporated the pearl and the diamonds from the rings, a “large” diamond in the engagement ring, and several smaller diamonds in the wedding band.  And, I asked him to use as his design inspiration the design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, designed by architect Frank Gehry.  If you’ve never been to the Disney Hall, you may have seen pictures, because it is architecturally unique in a way only Gehry can create.  Assymetry rules.  There are swoops and curves and points and angles.  The odd shapes cast shadows at certain times during the day.  Some call it deconstructivism.  It is as if one carved up a huge matte silver orb, like one would slice up an orange, and then displayed and tilted and juxtaposed the pieces and peelings at odd angles toward the sky and toward each other.  And all the pieces caught the sun’s rays and reflected them back in prismatic and cubistic disarray.

The jeweler had my pearl and the rings for several months, but when I finally picked up the pendant, I saw that he had done a terrific job of capturing the spirit of the Gehry design – three asymmetrical triangular planes, each of the three torqued and shaped somewhat differently and arranged around the pearl, mounted more or less in the center but “off” just the requisite amount, with the diamonds strategically placed.  He’d made several wax models until he got just the effect he wanted.  He’s a perfectionist.  So, it took longer than anticipated to craft.

I hadn’t thought of it as a talisman at the time, but perhaps it is.  My mother wasn’t always good at showing affection, though she improved somewhat in her later years.  And we never had a lot of money to give lavish gifts.  And her discipline was sometimes harsh.  I read recently in a novel about a family whose members had a special knack for wounding and hurting each other, both with words, actions and withheld affection.  The father gave one of his daughters this phrase of advice:  “You can’t buy milk in a hardware store.”  It seemed odd and mysterious but the point is you can’t extract or buy affection in a place where none exists, where none is forthcoming.  So, look around and take instead, what is on offer, what the person can and will share with you.  In a hardware store are many useful things – hammers, nails, tools, building supplies, keys and electrical fixtures.  Don’t keep looking for the milk, the succor, the nourishment, the praise that isn’t there and can’t be extracted.  Take instead, the cufflinks, the medal, the Daisy Red Ryder air rifle, the mittens or the pendant – like the other items in the hardware store – and make your peace.

So, I had my mother’s rings, and I still have the diamonds from them.  These my mother could give.  Perhaps when I wear the pendant it will remind me to take what she could give and, finally, to make my peace.

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About Connie

Connie Pursell is a baby boomer and a technical writer in the world of healthcare claims. Did Jesus Have a Cat? is her first book of essays. Connie misquotes Shakespeare: “Some are born quirky, some achieve quirkiness, and some have quirkiness thrust upon them.” She thinks she was born quirky but didn’t find her voice or full quirky potential until her later years. She grew up in Lancaster, California and earned a BA and an MA in English from Cal State University, Long Beach. In addition to essays, she also writes poetry – a couple of poems are included in the book. She is active in volunteer activities, makes beaded jewelry and lives in Laguna Niguel, CA with her three cats.