I held my first gold bar just over ten years ago. I was spending the summer in Ghana—a West African country where gold is inextricably connected to the history, traditions and economy—when our hosts arranged a tour of a local gold production plant.
Whatever mental image of gold I had up until that point—a polished wedding band, the flutter of thin gold leaf—was nothing like what confronted us at the refinery. Gold is no longer tapped from thick veins in a tunnel wall or panned from a stream, but chemically extracted from ore. Giant excavators scoop load after load of earth from open pit mines. We saw gaping holes where mountains once stood, crossed catwalks over enormous vats where pulverized rock was mixed with cyanide and acid with the goal of luring out the few dozen grams of gold hiding in each ton of ore. Trucks constantly moved earth; out of that maybe a couple gold bricks were produced each day, small enough to hold in two hands.
At the end of the tour, we were ushered inside to watch the final step in that process. A dingy powder (what now remained of the piles of earth) was poured into furnace. A worker carefully swept everything from the floor and tossed it in to make sure not even the smallest bit of the valuable dust had escaped. The fire burned until we could feel the skin of our cheeks begin to tighten. At the right moment, a stream of molten gold cascaded from the tipped pot into a waiting mold.
After the bar cooled and was pounded from the mold, I walked up to the white-clothed table where it lay, worth enough to pay for my college education and beyond. I picked it up. It was remarkably heavy for its size, over fifty pounds. Thousands of tons of ore had been reduced to one single shining brick.
Of all that I saw that day, the one thing which has lingered in my memory is the weight of the gold bar as I struggled to lift it, the roughness of its surface against my palms, the absolute solidity of it. Every time I slip the nothingness of a gold chain around my neck I cannot help but contrast it to the rawness and heft of that brick. But so much else from day has drifted away from my memory without me noticing.
So many of my memories are this way—one strong impression left, but the details lost. Even as I look back over the two brief years since my son was born there is much which has grown hazy. There are of course the big moments that remain: seeing him for the first time, his first smile, watching him crawl. Those are the gold nuggets of memory, easily plucked from the stream bed. But the everyday things are harder to pick out, lost among the business of everyday life. What made him laugh during that first hot summer? What did he sound like when he started to babble? What did I think about as I rocked him in the middle of the night? Everything felt so vivid, so important as it was happening during that first year—I thought I would remember forever. But already I don’t.
The small memories which do remain are those I was deliberate about picking out and saving, those captured in a photo or words. But they are so few. A handful of moments saved on a blog or written into a letter. A picture of something which at the time felt mundane, but now seems so worth recalling.
I have set my mind to be more disciplined about regular reflection on our life together as he grows. To do the gritty work of reflection in order to draw out the small yet worthy moments from the mundane details of our everyday life, the ones hidden like those few grams of gold in the pile of ore. To mine the mountain of our days to find what is precious, and to refine it into something solid and lasting to carry with me into the years to come. My own block of memories, raw and rough and golden.
Courtesy of the Blog Exchange, today’s post is from Heather, who met her future husband on that trip to Ghana. You can usually find her at Production, Not Reproduction. Be sure to visit there for Jennifer’s post on this month’s theme: Silver or Gold.