Since age 4, The Boy has asked for a piercing in his ear, and since age 4, I’ve said, “Sorry. No.” To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really care one way or another if my son wore an earring or not, but I knew that his military academy graduate father did, and out of respect for The Colonel I denied the requests for an earring without wavering. Regardless of my unyielding position, this exchange between my son and me took place every time we I passed the Gold Kiosk. At age 8, he surprised me as he broke character and went off-script after we passed the kiosk. Instead of asking if he could destroy a perfectly good ear that I had worked 9 months to make, he asked to borrow my phone. Assuming that he wanted it to play Tetris, I handed it over.
Tactical Error by Mom.
He called his father. At the time, Dad was an Air Force orthopedic surgeon, who happened to be, on this particular occasion, knee deep in an elbow replacement, or elbow deep in a complete knee replacement- (I’m not sure which anymore) in his operating room, which was packed with his team. The Colonel’s interns, residents, o.r. technicians and nurses all knew my cell number, and though it was rare that I would call him on a surgery day, if a call did come through from my phone, one of them would scrub out, turn down the Classic Rock that suppressed the sound of power tools, push “talk” and hold the phone up to his ear while everyone in the room listened for the next crazy story I might be calling about. (They think I’m insane. I don’t know how they came to that conclusion. <grin>)
Instead, this time here was a little voice dripping with hope and awesome on the other end.
“Hi Dad. It’s me. How are you? Are you cutting someone’s guts open?” (About this time, back at the mall, I nearly stroke out right there between the Gold Kiosk and The Gap and frantically start looking for one of those defibrillator things that hang on a wall to re-start my failing heart...)
“It’s Friday. The Good Doctor is most certainly in surgery. He knows this.”, I tell myself. I realize this is a calculated ploy. He’s calling his father because he knows it’s too difficult to debate with an 8–year old in the middle of surgery.
”Uh, I’m at the mall and I’m standing next to the Gold Kiosk. Do you care if I get my ear pierced? I don’t think Mom minds.” I swear I gave birth to Calvin from Bill Waterson’s comic, Calvin and Hobbes.
“Son, may I please speak with your Mother?”
That was the last time I handed either one of my kids my phone without asking, “Who are we calling?”
Fast forward 9 years of Gold Kiosk drive-by’s at the mall. The 7 year old is now 16 and he is growing into a seasoned sailor and diver with 15 ocean voyages under his belt. His captain, mentor and most reliable friend is a 6’5”, burly, balding & bearded giant of a guy with piercing blue eyes and a heart as big as Texas. He also has an earlobe with 2 or 3 small, subtle golden rings that perforate his ear. I secretly think they look rather nice but I don’t share that with The Boy, who needs no encouragement to keep the earring dialogue going.
It was during a 4-day road trip with The Boy, three Februarys ago that The Captain had occasion to share a story with him while driving. I wasn’t actually in the car as it was told, so forgive my creative license as I re-tell it, but it went something like this:
“Boy, do you know why sailors wear gold earrings in their ears?”
“No, Sir. I don’t.“
“Well, back in the day when ships were a primary means of travel, a sailor might be out to sea for long periods of time. While on the water and with medicine being what it was back then, there were many, many ways by which a man could grow sick and die. It was a true state of affairs albeit unfortunate, that if a sailor were to die mid-voyage, he literally went from being part of a mighty ship’s crew to becoming, “dead weight” that burdened the ship more even as the crew was now one man short. His corpse essentially became rotting cargo. It was a common practice therefore, to dispose of a dead sailor by the way of Davy Jones’ Locker if you know what I mean.”
“Yes, Sir. He was tossed overboard.”
“That’s right he was given a sea burial and tossed right off the side, left to the wake of the boat and to the appetites of the predators below- that is, unless he was carrying the money to pay his passage back home so that his loved ones and family could give him a proper burial.”
“Yes Sir. Having money would be good for that.” (I can imagine the Boy getting nervous about where this conversation is going, considering his job during the summer. I know I would have been!)
“So you see, it was for this very reason- as an insurance policy, that sailors began to place gold rings through their earlobes- to be removed only upon their death as payment for passage home.”
I’ve since learned that depending on how far a man was sailing, or in which hemisphere he voyaged, he would have 1, 2 or 3 rings in his ear- all related to the cost of going home. Today’s mariners therefore, wear earrings as a reminder that they belong somewhere and intend to return there.
And with the conclusion of the story, The Captain who knew that The Colonel was not cool with his teenage son piercing a perfectly good ear reached into his pocket and pulled out a small gold coin. On one side was a sea turtle, and the other, a crown. It was a 50 dollar gold piece from the British Virgin Islands that at one time had been real currency. He handed the gold coin to The Boy and told him, “This is for you to keep so that you can always find your way home.”
The timing of all of this was significant in that The Boy would be graduating in a few months, then off to sail the Caribbean with The Captain as usual. From there he was starting his freshman year of college in a state that was completely new to him. He knew that while he was down island that summer, I would be placing his childhood home on the market, locking the door one last time and joining The Colonel across the country. We had just purchased a new home and he was joining a civilian practice. It was all an awful lot for one Boy to bear.
I’ll never forget him telling me the story about the coin because he was standing in the bare living room of that new place with tears in his eyes as he opened up a clenched fist and showed it to me. The Captain had taken a 10 hour detour in a snow storm during that road trip just to allow The Boy to see the new place with his own eyes before going back to finish high school and start his new life away from any home he’s ever had. I melted.
I love the history behind the story of the sailors and their earrings. I love the depth of compassion and timing behind the actions of The Captain. I love that now at almost 20-years old, The Boy still keeps that gold coin close; wearing it on a signet ring we had custom made for him for his high school graduation. I also love that I am reminded of this story every single time I cruise past one of my favorite, heavily highlighted passages in the Psalm 19:
9 “The fear of the LORD is pure,
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold; …”
It was probably because of this short passage 32 years ago that I realized in a life-changing way, that the passage home for believers is found only through a pure and lasting relationship with The Divine. That in this climate of waffling faith and watered down belief systems, it is the Word of a Holy God that stands firm and unmoved amidst the ebb and flow of society’s shifting value system. It is His righteousness that we cling to in the midst of storms and it is an incessant desire to reflect with our lives and our hearts the truths we find in His Word that anchors our lives to Him and paves our way home. And indeed, the psalmist reminded me that night in my room alone and through no uncertain terms, that these things are more precious than the purest of gold.
Like most things about God that confound man, it’s easy to look around us and see examples of the abandonment of Truth in pursuit of riches or worldly treasures. How silly of us, when we already know that it is the truth of God that is the most valuable of all things within our grasp. It is this truth, and this truth only that ensures our passage home.
Every morning since the day my son shared that story, as I stand before the bathroom mirror and carefully put on my earrings, I have taken a moment to thank God for that precious price he paid on our behalf. I have committed myself to being more mindful of His holiness and more appreciative of the strength of His Word in my life. I’m not perfect- I’m certainly not worthy…but somehow this morning ritual has lent itself to fortifying the things upon which I have come to most heavily rely.
And I pray that my son will continue to do the same as he periodically removes the new, bright ring that now hangs discreetly, just out of sight, beneath his messy mop of sun-bleached, blonde hair. It sits there in the cartilage of his right ear in homage to the ocean habitat he loves, the Captain he adores and the rad God he is learning to serve.
This post was written by a friend who wishes to remain unknown.