Saturday, February 9, 2013

Of coal and diamonds

I know that man was made out of the dust of the earth, that he is red like the clay out of which he was fashioned. I know that of the body it is said, ‘Remember, O man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return,’ while the soul is not addressed at all, since ‘the soul of man is immortal, and cannot die,’ as some church formularies have it (that’s what I was taught as a child).

But in my metaphoric mind, I like to think of man as a lump of coal. Why? Because coal is carbon, for one, the building block of life. For another, because, take coal and subject it to intense heat and pressure and, voilà, you have a diamond. This is what I see makes a man bright and hard (in the sense of indestructible), that he is subjected to heat and pressure, and instead of burning up, turns into a diamond, the brightest and hardest of all gems. A man who reaches this I call ‘Adamantios.’

There are plenty of man-made diamonds around, maybe as good as the real thing, I don’t know. I’ve also seen what used to be called rhinestones, maybe they still are. That’s the kind of jewelry my mom had, (her only real diamonds were tiny ones in her wedding band). But rhinestones are not diamonds at all. They try to glisten, they try to look real, but they’re only glass, just sand melted up and crystallized.

Everyone starts out, continuing my metaphor, as a lump of coal. Some of those lumps want to become diamonds, but they don’t want to have to go through the ‘treatment.’ Instead of turning themselves in, letting themselves be buried deep in the earth where heat and pressure can crunch them into what they want to be, they stay on the surface. Some of them pretend to do the heat and pressure treatment, but they’re like pieces of coal that just jump into a furnace of their choice, thinking that’ll be enough heat and, hey, who needs the pressure anyway? But what happens to them? They only glow red for awhile, then they burn up, carbon in the form of soot, smoke and ash. So much for just wanting to become a diamond!

But there are those who know that there’s no way around it: to become a diamond, you have to let yourself be buried. You’re afraid that maybe you’ll be crushed, but that won’t happen, so long as you let yourself be buried deep enough. That’s another problem with being buried, that has to be deep too, otherwise you just get crushed. But crunched, not crushed, is what you want to be. That’s how a diamond is made. So the lump of coal has to first ask, ‘Is this what I really want?’ and then if the answer is ‘Yes,’ to turn itself over to the Diamond Maker.

Why this silly metaphor? Well, I really do think like this. I look around me at the lumps of coal that go rolling by, up above the dig that I’m in (by the way, I hope my dig is deep enough!) and some of them that I see will stop by, and stay a spell. We’ll have a little chat, lump to lump, and I’ll look hard to see if there’s a diamond lurking in there somewhere. Sometimes the lump will come right out and tell me he wants to be a diamond. A few even tell me they’re diamonds already. Heck, I’m not color-blind! And I admit, sometimes I want to see diamonds so bad, I’ll even talk myself into thinking a passing lump of coal is a potential. Then again, sometimes I’m wrong. It’s one thing to just read about the bell of Dharma, and quite another to ring it.

So, in closing, my brother lumps and lumpettes, I ask your prayers for this lump to get crunched enough to join the brethren in the diadem of the King of kings of kings (blessed be He!). It’s dark down here, but I know it’ll be, I will be, light soon.

Man makes an end of darkness
when he pierces to the uttermost depths
the black and lightless rock.

Job 28:3 Jerusalem Bible

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