Whenever I go on holiday (at least since the year 1999), I have chosen a small stone to take back home. I’m not quite sure why I do this. In hospital I read the book called ‘Hinds Feet in High Places’ and the heroine ‘Much Afraid’ picks up stones at parts of her journey as a sort of memorial to what she has been through and how she has survived and been helped by God. It just seems like a healthy thing to do.
The first I remember picking up as a child was a sandstone fossil from Portugal. I think it disintegrated. Then came a beautiful stone made from lead topped with crystal which I found near a river at Hafod in Wales, aged ten. I loved that stone like a treasure, but as so happens with the things you love the most, you lose them. It is as if the universe sees your attachment and says ‘He’s too fond of that, let’s take it away from him’. I lost it.
When I worked in London, I was amazed at how many churches were built from flint. So, I took a small piece from the ground in a graveyard. After that I became a little more disciplined in my task. I have containers with stones from all kinds of holidays from Britain and abroad. Most of them I cannot even place anymore, perhaps revealing how relatively lucky I am to have had so many holidays. Memorable stones include a piece of jet found on the beach at Whitby. It has become a bit of a tradition and a duty now and sometimes I almost forget and grab the nearest stone I can find in the last moments of a holiday. The stones do not choose me, I choose the stones. If I find one and then find a better one, I reject the first and feel a tinge of sadness for the rejected stone but remind myself that they are only stones and don’t really care.
As I write there is a stone which seems to be speaking: ‘Anything to salve your conscience,’ the stone seems to say. Silently smug or in such a fearful silence at what lies ahead that it dare not speak even though it has lived a tad longer than myself and will almost certainly outlive me till judgment day.
I think it is simply a nice thing to do, but it is not very edifying or healing. It is a quirk. Of which I have many. Perhaps they remind me of how much I have been through. But we are told not to be too proud to have survived, even though we are good at that and any one of us has the qualifications to write a book on survival in this world. They say that we should look at how many troubles God has brought us through. But when I think back, all I can remember is the pain of those troubles. A bad track record from God. Surviving long intolerable, unendurable circumstances does not necessarily make a person feel much peace for the future.
And the stones agree.
But let’s end hopefully to please the optimists. In the dark grey slate of the rock of our lives there can also be a bright streak of silvery lead. Sadly, lead is poisonous. But it looks beautiful.