Among the things I brought back to Los Angeles from Houston (the dispersing of items from my mother's house) is a brass kettle and stand that used to sit on the hearth of my grandparents' fireplace when I was little. It had always charmed me. The surface of the stand (which isn't much more than a foot or a foot and a half high) is a cut out design of a squirrel in a circle. Both used to gleam brightly and cheerfully. I don't know that it was ever used to hold hot water, even though the placement on the hearth would imply it had been (by the fire to keep the water warm, back in more primative times). But it was a friendly item, and it connected me to long gone days in a nice way.
Anyway, cut to the modern day. When we were sorting through the house, and items that had been stored up in the attic for years and years, the kettle and stand resurfaced. And in our process of dividing things up, I was fortunate to get it. The poor thing was dark brown-orange with tarnish, dust and age. I don't know when the last time it had been washed, nevermind polished. I did wonder whether it would be possible to get it back to that gleaming state I remembered from childhood. But I intended to try.
A check in the cleaning aisle of the grocery store turned up some brass polish (along with the silver polish I needed for other items). Now, I had tried the silver polish on the brass kettle, but it didn't do the job very well. Probably had to do with the different chemistry of the metals. So I'd gotten some of the brass polish (I was going to need it for some other items as well, anyway). And Monday evening, I sat down and tackled it.
Polish, polish, polish. Rub, rub, rub. Rinse. Rub, rub. Polish.
Gradually, the dark brown-orange tarnish gave up to my cleaning, and the bright, shiny brass surface slowly became revealed. The tarnished surfaces had a slight roughness to my fingers, but the polished ones were sleek and smooth.
And eventually both the kettle and the stand stood bright and shiny again.
It was very satisfying to sit back and look at them.
Now, even while tarnished, the shapes of the pieces had pleased. They are nicely made and have a certain grace to them. But to see them cleaned as well was special. They spoke to some part inside me that loves and craves beauty, I think. A part that we all have.
Now, the revealing that we do have this inner need for beauty in our lives, that would usually be enough for the spiritual insight an event gives. But there was more to be found in this for me.
Because, I started thinking about how we use the word "tarnish" as a metaphor in people's lives. "His reputation is now tarnished." And it occured to me that, however the usage may have started out, our modern usage had come to mean that when someone's reputation is tarnished it is now irreparably damaged. A stain that will not be removed. A constant blight to all those around that person.
But tarnish is NOT a permanet scar. Tarnish is NOT irreparable. It can be cleaned off, removed with some effort, to reveal, once again, the thing of beauty that had been obscured.
I came to this realization because after I'd finished polishing the kettle, I thought about how the past several months have been, in a way, about the application of a tarnish remover/polish to my own life. My life had gotten dulled, clogged and dirty. And I've been applying myself to cleaning off the tarnish, working hard (you need more than a swift swipe to remove the tarnish), removing the clutter. The process is still ongoing, but it now looks as though the year will end with bright new shiny conditions around me, that reveal the beauty and comfort that had been cluttered and dirtied over for far too long.
It all reminds me that we do not have to accept the status quo. Especially if our lives are dull and clogged. We can change things. And most especially, we can remove the tarnish. God designed us to be bright and beautiful. All we have to do is apply some elbow grease to our lives.
Remove the tarnish. You'll like the results. I have, I do.