My stone collection lives in a Hard Rock Café glass on my kitchen counter. Many of them are polished gemstones, purchased at some point in a mystical gift shop or as accessories to a tabletop fountain or other faux-zen object. Some of them were gifts, like the leopard skin jasper or the sodalite, that were proposed to hold some kind of power—self-confidence, inner peace, the dissipation of fear—which would “flow around” me, granting me the ability to shed the flaws in my personality. This might be only time the phrase “mumbo jumbo” has ever been applicable for me.
Though I can’t completely discount the power of stones. In his new book The History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects, S. Brent Plate reminds us of the sanctity of stones for three of the world’s major religions: the Muslims have the Ka’aba in Mecca, the Jews the Wailing Wall, and the Christians the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is said to have been crucified and later resurrected. We as people assign meaning to objects as a matter of comfort, often subconsciously. Though, as Plate says, anything can be holy if those physical objects are “brought together in a single location and unified through the intentions…of a collector.” We are aware to a certain degree of the application of meaning if we intend to repurpose our objects for whatever we choose.
Within the pile of store-bought stones in my collection are a select half-dozen or so that I plucked from the sands of a Cape Cod beach, or spotted alongside a road and eventually had to have because I liked its visible layers or how it looked when it was wet. I am sentimental about these little rocks—smooth ones, multi-colored ones, ones in the shape of South America or an isosceles triangle—because of who gave them to me, or their intent for me, or where they came from, or who I was when they came into my possession.
What drives people to give me stones, or what propels me to pick them up out of literally trillions of others, is something I am only beginning to understand. Stones appeal to me outside of their ornamental function almost as a corporeal tether to the earth. The spiritual capacity the stones are storied to have is not what has made me keep all of my stones for so long.
Plate writes that “the journey of one body is mirrored in the body of the other.” The same is true for me. The imperfections within each stone, the physicality of touching a jagged edge, reminds me of the changing tides and sediments of the earth, and in turn the not-so pristine landscape of people. I can live with my flaws as long as I can use them as tools for betterment, or for seeing all the complex parts that made me. “The stone’s journey,” asserts Plate, “meets the human journey, provoking memories, contemplation, a respect for the immense energies at work in the universe.”
It’s astounding how much is happening all at once to make things what they are. I like that every grain of sand is itself a unique and individual stone, weathered by its own experiences, complete with imperfections.
Robin Beaudoin is a writer, a bookseller, and the current marketing intern at Beacon Press. Her favorite word is genuflect.