Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hidden Potential

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.


  1. Here I was, thinking I was reading a nice science lesson, and then BAM! The metaphor comes that makes me reflect on my life.

    I don't like to reflect!

  2. It's great to have a visual for the "finished product", Joseph Smith's 'polished shaft', when we're in the middle of the metamorphosis. Heat and pressure are no fun, but if the result is a life of infinite worth, then it's a little easier to take the heat.

    This is one of the best things you've written.

  3. The greatest value is often in the unknown--even as we ponder what is known about it : )

    What a thought-provoking post--thank you!

  4. I love your illustration. I think it's a good analogy and just what I needed today. It's comforting to think that current stresses, which, to me, are quite catastrophic, may leave something beautiful and strong in their wake. Your post gave me some thoughts that sparked some hope. Thanks, friend.

  5. Great analogy! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Man, this butt kicks post.

    I mean, this post kicks butt.

    In all seriousness, I love the way you wrote this. It got me thinking more about the other kinds of rocks. I'm now having (no lie) deep thoughts about the sedimentary rocks and the metaphor there. This post deserves a wider audience . . .hmmmm.

    Very, very well done.

  7. This is one good, deep thinking post. I like the analogy between us developing our talents & selves to layers of sediment & rock. And I agree, none of us are ordinary or common, either.

  8. I loved your opening paragraph! Actually, I loved it all...but that opening completely pulled me in. I've pondered that very idea myself. Rocks becoming diamonds.

    I hinted at it in this post:
    That same year my best friend gave me a copper pot and some rocks for Christmas, along with a package of paper white bulbs, and instructions for growing them...on the rocks. My mother-in-law gave me two different rocks that Christmas.

    I also love your ending. I'm still hoping for metamorphosis too.

  9. This is a lovely post. That's all I wanted to say. :)

  10. What a gorgeous post. Melanie's right about your writing and the analogy is lovely and TRUE! An excellent reminder.

    Also, I have to say I love your thoughts on comments in your sidebar. I feel exactly the same about every single detail, except for the polishing my posts, since I'm not a writer and don't put too much effort into it. It's just so refreshing to read my own thoughts so clearly expressed on someone else's blog. Thanks for that!

  11. Oooh, I love geology. Nicely done.

  12. Geology is one of my life fascinations (I'm actually writing a fantasy novel centred on it, funnily enough), so this post really sunk in with me. Love the analogy you crafted here - simply beautiful. I'll definitely be peeking back here when I get home from vacation next week.

  13. Beautiful post. I too love rocks. Rocks abound in my life.

  14. I'm with both Melanie J. and LisAway. I also believe in commenting for the love of the post--not for the love of the reciprocity.
    This post is beautiful and thoughtful and it makes me want to be a rock. A rockin' rock.

  15. I know you have heard this a few times before me, but I wanted to thank you for a post. It like to pick up rocks that I think are pretty, I am certain none of them are of much value to anyone other than me, but it would be interesting to know how they were formed, what ages of life they have been exposed to. It is the same thoughts I have as I think of my parents and I ask them to tell me the stories of their youth. I am learning how they became them. We are all unique. Thank you for a thoughtful post.


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