I have a rock. My kids call it my special rock. I found it in a river up in the mountains when we were on vacation a couple of summers ago. It doesn't look like much now, but in the water, clear, cool, and sparkling, it seemed to have a glow about it, a lovely green inner fire that compelled me to touch it, handle it, take it home with me.
I was convinced I had found a fist-sized emerald, raw and uncut, but fraught with potential -- for purity, for beauty, for a nice fat ring on my finger.
The rock sits on my kitchen windowsill where I see it every day. As I wash dishes and stare out the window, I think about that rock. My emerald. We have a little gem & mineral museum downtown. Gemstones are actually more common around here than you'd think, so it's not all that far-fetched for me to imagine great value in my find. Every time I drive past the museum, I think I should take my rock in to have it identified, once and for all.
But I never do it. When I can only imagine the possibilities, when its true identity is still shadowed by the mystery of conjecture, it seems more valuable to me. It might be just a rock, but as long as I don't know for sure, it might also be something extraordinary.
This got me thinking about rocks in general. Is anything just a rock? Time out for some science. I promise to go easy on you.
Rocks come in three basic types: sedimentary, metamorphic, igneous. Sedimentary rocks are formed as particles of sediment are deposited and then subjected to pressure intense enough to bring about "lithification", or rock formation. I really like that word. Sedimentary rocks have layers: think the stripes on the top of Mt. Timpanogos, the painted sandstone of Antelope Canyon, the tortured shale striations visible on the exposed rock faces of my own Appalachian mountains.
Igneous rocks are what's left over after a volcanic eruption: magma cools and solidifies, leaving us with such useful stones as obsidian, basalt, pumice, granite and tufa (out of which the ancient Etruscans carved the city of Orvieto in Italy, one of my most favorite places on the planet). Though they all vary vastly in density and mineral composition, all of these rocks have one thing in common: an explosion had to happen in order for them to happen.
Metamorphic rocks -- now these are magical. Metamorphic rocks are formed when an existing rock is changed. The metamorphosis can happen when any rock -- sedimentary, igneous, or an older metamorphic -- is subjected to extreme heat and pressure. More extreme than a volcano, which forms the igneous rocks in the first place. More extreme than years and years and years of sedimentation, which forms the sedimentary rocks. Metamorphosis gives us marble and slate, diamonds and gemstones.
We all have parts of us that have been formed by layer upon layer of sensory intake, external stimuli, and our own introspective processing of those experiences. And then we undergo something big, something explosive, something igneous, and an entirely new type of person emerges: sometimes hard and piercing, like the obsidian used anciently to make spear and arrow heads; sometimes soft and porous like the pumice we use to smooth and erode rough patches.
I'm hoping for some metamorphosis. Take my sedimentation, my sharp obsidian, my flinty shale, my pumice that won't hold water, and turn it into marble, to slate, to diamonds. To emeralds.
Rocks and stones are many in number, just like souls. But common, ordinary? Never. Not them, and not us, either.