Ah, rings. There are six shown above, a good variety. There could be, perhaps should be, more to display. I’ve collected a few rings over my lifetime, especially when much younger and my hands seemed to desire adornments more than they do now. Not that they were uniquely lovely hands. They were so functional–fingers long though skinny–for playing my cello and a little harp, for noodling around on piano, for writing everything in longhand and, of course, bike riding and swinging from tree branches.
I was less interested in any jewelry until I entered high school. Rings have been gifts, or were found at fancy and plain shops. I made them, too, from silver. Most sit in my wood jewelry box. Even after giving a couple away to daughters, I counted eleven more in nesting spots. Out of those, more than half could be tossed now, as I have little if any attachment to them. This tidying task is on my To Do list along with the others. But the ones I value most are ones I wear often, usually three at once and daily.
All are shown above with the kindly regarded fourth, and a fifth set back. Apart. I prefer jewelry made of silver as gold tends toward flashier. I like the coolness of silver, a twilit ribbon of water or the horizon on a rain-promised day or snow and ice in barest morning shadow. Silver soothes and lightens, shows its beauty in a decorous way.
In the front row: a moonstone set in a clean silver setting. In the second row: a phoenix inset with a small turquoise, then a silver ring with a filigree of floral designs, and a gold one with twin pearls. In the back is a wide rose gold band. It is not my wedding band.
In fact, I have no wedding band. I have had, of course; I have been married more than once and am now. But I’ve had no ring on my left ring finger with a purpose of declaring “married.” Not for quite a while.
My very first wedding ring was handmade by an white-haired, philosophizing, gifted jeweler and artisan in Sarasota, Florida. I had admired his work and his affability when on a vacation, before I was even expecting to marry Ned. Then such plans came to be and my fiancé and I, twenty-two and twenty respectively, designed interlocking shapes. The drawings and sizes were mailed and finally they came back, hand cast in luminous gold. The rings had heft and beauty, perfect for the event, a church wedding we shared with friends and family. I felt the ring’s unique presence, and it held my hopes.
But our marriage ended nine years later. And much later, the ring was sold for its considerable gold. It was an act of angry grief. I thought it was only an object and would never regret it. Now, 36 years later, the memory of its meaning remains beyond the thing itself. I sometimes wish it was around– to pass on one day to children we had and loved together. To admire its glow, its creative design, to feel its weight and exquisiteness a moment before returning it to a quiet spot.
My current husband, Marc, and I married in the living room of our rambling blue house, our combined five children, my parents and a few friends in attendance along with a gentle-eyed minister. The day before we had bought silver bands at a hippie shop where artsy-craftsy items were sold. It was a college town; we had little extra money; we had put it off until late. It seemed less important than getting things settled with our new family and moving on with life. The bands were worn for perhaps three years, then one day mine was simply gone. It was winter. My hands were bluish-white with cold as always, and I sought lotion to put on chapped skin. I looked down to find the ring had disappeared. It had had a small split in the thin curve of silver; it had not held up well. I wondered if it finally just broke apart and fell while I was doing daily chores. It never was found.
I began wearing another silver band, the one in the photograph on the right. I had made it in my high school art class. It was plain, save for six delicate lines that scored the round-edged circle. I liked having it on; it passed easily for my wedding ring. We first spent money on our children and other priorities, not jewelry. So I decided to keep wearing it and my husband was agreeable. Then five years later he bought me a little bit fancy blue topaz which I gladly wore until…yes, disaster…the good-sized stone fell from a loosened prong as I rode a bike. Gone for good. I really missed that one but it was back to the silver band.
Twelve years later I still wore that high school band even though we divorced. I figured it was one that was wholly mine, married or not. I had created and enjoyed its simplicity for twenty-five years at that point.
Some rings came and left with me, one marriage to the other, one life passage to another, as well as when single for six years after the second divorce. Since high school I had worn on my right hand one of two rings. You can see a gold one set with diminutive pearls as well as one in silver with a large moonstone.
The pearl ring was a gift from my parents for my sixteenth birthday. I was very surprised by their action partly due to the extravagance–they usually didn’t buy us much of “extraneous” things (meaning, irrelevant to our cultural and academic education) nor anything fancy, I felt very grown up when wearing it, pleased they entrusted me with a possession of loveliness and some value. It looked classy on my hand. They were the only pearls I enjoyed wearing, despite a single strand of pearls being a girls’ preferred piece of jewelry for dressing up (I had a pearl necklace, handed down from my big sister). The importance of it was their gifting it. And it matters I’ve managed to keep it for so long. And that it still fits.
The moonstone ring was one I bought with money saved a long time. I got it a year or so after receiving the pearl ring. I saw it at the finest jewelry store in town, where my girlfriends and I liked to browse, ogling bright gemstones, shining silver necklaces and bracelets–all while under laser gazes and snippety glances of elegant saleswomen. Rarely could I even small things there for best friends. It was the style then to engrave a locket or an “ID” bracelet with initials or a message and give to closest friends.
When I spotted the moonstone, it dazzled me more than any diamond could. It held a deep glow in its milky depths. It changed when turned under display lights, brighter, then softer and richer. It seemed to presage something mysterious and good. I had to know more about this stone, and read soon after that it was said to enhance intuition, that it encouraged hope and balanced energy. That did it; I had to have it. It felt like this was meant to be my ring, whether or not it had any special qualities. For me it did; the moonstone spoke to me. And so I purchased it and wore it for the next decades on my right hand. Without it, my hand feels oddly bare.
Now it’s worn on my left ring finger, the traditionally designated marriage finger. I mentioned I don’t have a wedding band now and thus, this takes its place alongside the basic silver one I made so long ago. The reason I don’t have an official one? When Marc and I remarried and finally got around to designing silver bands, it turned into a trying experience all around. I wanted a sapphire as well as a tiny diamond from a family ring set into a wide, textured band. It was made in such a way that the settings kept catching on fabric. Too, when it was cold and my fingers “shrank”, the ring turned and another finger got scraped. Then the diamond fell out. Marc’s heavier ring, with no stones, was fine. I returned mine to the jeweler but she stated it couldn’t be well repaired or redesigned for a reasonable price or length of time. After a trying exchange, I finally got part of the money back. I was so frustrated and disappointed.
And I was done with all that. I was starting to wonder about this wedding ring business. So far I haven’t found another wedding ring that thrills me. Thus, my old moonstone and silver band now keep their place on my left finger. Marc is nonchalant about all this; he wears his sturdy silver band.
Another ring in the picture displays a small phoenix. That story is simple: it came from my (now only living) sister, who has collected a great deal of turquoise jewelry so knows her stones and silver. She gave it to me after a difficult time in my life when I was determined to embrace sobriety well and gratefully, yet was experiencing self-doubt and melancholy. The mythology of the phoenix is that across many cultures this majestic bird has symbolized death and rebirth, a bird who perishes in a fire of its own making, only to come alive and rise up once more. It seems foolish not to wear that one. I do appreciate its beauty as I wear it, but it was more my sister’s love that helped me increase my strength and hope, to start over again.
The wide ring with a complex design appears to bear flowers or geometric shapes reminiscent of ceramic tiles that often draw me. I bought this one about ten years ago after it was potted at a silver shop in Hood River, Oregon. The day was sunny and breezy. Down the hill flowed the powerful Columbia River, brightly marked with windsurfers and paddleboarders, many kayaks and sailboats. We had watched and walked, drunk our cold brew coffee and chatted. When I saw the ring I thought: I’m always happy here and this ring feels just like that feels. It suits me well with both flowers and geometry. I’ve worn it since on my right hand.
The last one in the picture, a rose gold band, is enigmatic. I put it at the back because it has no meaning other than what I may choose to ascribe to it. It is, ironically, most like a wedding band and it likely is. It just is not and never will be mine.
It was after a senior concert at a high school that our daughter attended. I had gone alone, as Marc was on a work trip, and parked on a major street near businesses. I was tired but pleased with her concert; Alexandra had gone off with friends. I put a few items to take home on the passenger side of the car seat, closed the door and looked down for no good reason. There, between the curb and my car, lay a ring. It barely glinted. I could only see it a moment because headlights swept across pavement. I picked it up, and held it closer to my eyes, then looked around, wondering who may have lost it. It could have been anybody who had parked there–and at any given time. I wondered, though, if it was someone with kids at the school. Or a business person crossing the street. A woman walking her dogs. A visitor to the area.
For a moment I thought about taking it into the school, but the building was nearly dark as evening came to a close. It could belong to an elderly woman or someone who had fingers like I did, thin, bony, “slippery” when cold. But how would I ever know? I put it in my pants pocket and left. Then I forgot about it.
It was a week later when I started to wash the dress pants that the ring was retrieved. I turned it over in my fingers. It was a pretty rose gold, I was sure of it, with its golden-coppery sheen. I tried it on my right ring finger. To my surprise, it fit. I felt a bit shaky with that sense of doing something wrong as I stood in my laundry room, admiring–wearing–another woman’s ring. It could have adorned someone’s hand for fifty years. It had tiny scratches, was worn on the edges, maybe from lying in leaves and dirt a long while. Or the result of years of wear and tear. Life being lived. Who was she? What did she think when she realized it was not on her finger?
I can’t tell you why I kept it, there was no real reason. I didn’t know what to do with it, how on earth I’d find such a person. I considered putting an ad in the city newspaper but how would that work out? Anyone might say it was hers; no one might even read it, it’s just the paper. I had a ring with no home, no place to be. No hand to warm. Maybe I kept it because it just turned up for me–someone who doesn’t even own a ring specific to marriage. As I write that sentence, no feeling surfaces. Still, it remains in my polished jewelry box with those I no longer wear. For all I know, it might also be similar to the ones I wear: not emblematic of marriage, exactly, but a gift. Or even a ring she found in a dusty shop or yes, right on the ground. But I guess I have become its de facto keeper.
I do know this: rings don’t have power in and of themselves. They are small adornments, enhance a hand or symbolize things but we make our own meanings. Yet they can exert influence on us. They can stir things up one way or another, perhaps help us release our own magic. Hold a semblance of our pasts and aid the sharing of our stories. They can even contribute to our creation of new chapters in unseen ways as we move forward.