A Fine Thing

I hit the first-floor landing just as my son’s shoe toppled the crystal angel given me last Christmas by my mother-in-law. I’d heard the “boy noise” escalate from laughter to hysteria to full-on combat. It happens this way with teenage boys; often, it’s a matter of seconds before rough-housing turns into a WWF smack down, complete with flying chairs, leaps off the sofa, and, of course, cursing. If a mother can intervene just then, she can save a fine thing.
But I did not get there in time. The Nike missile missed my other son’s head and took out the angel. I watched the severed head tumble away from her body and thump onto the dining room floor, like a large marble out for a roll. I righted the decapitated remainder, and one wing fell off. Thunk.
I retrieved the head — it was a clean break — and wiped away a tear. “If I break off the other wing, we could tell everyone this is John the Baptist,” I grunted at my suddenly silent sons.
It’s hard to lose a fine thing. Often, they are given with great thought and expense. Typically, you don’t have many fine things — at least, not enough to let heads roll away without a whimper. Once broken, they can rarely be restored, and they are seldom again what they once were.
But it’s a fact of life: Fine things break easily, which is part of what makes them fine. For our 13th wedding anniversary, my husband went all out. “It’s lace this year,” he sweetly crooned, “a strong and beautiful type of weave, like our marriage.” I was moved to tears by the sentiment. Before the evening was out, I cried for a different reason.
He first laid before me three fragile, colored glass ornaments, each encased in an intricate, handmade lace overlay. The light played off the shimmering surfaces, peeking out as the design of the lace allowed. Bill held aloft one orb, a glow of green haloing his hand, and gently said, “This is a fine thing.”
And it was — until it popped, imploded and disappeared into Bill’s suddenly emptied grip, raining small glass shards upon the table. “Oops,” he smiled weakly. “I guess I squeezed too hard.”
I quickly scooped up the two remaining gifts and said reassuringly, “I’ll just put these up in the china cabinet, dear.” I declined his offer to help.
Later that night, I donned a beautiful lace-trimmed robe he had also surprised me with. It was a creamy buff, floor length, soft silk — a fine thing. He wrapped a loving arm around me as I walked out of the closet — but misjudged the trim along the back neckline. His finger hooked the edge, and I heard the lace tear away from the robe under his grip. Blessedly, he did not see my tears.
Fine things require a care that does not always come easily, and is easily forgotten. Their fragility and preciousness make them fine — like an aged wine that, neglected, can go to vinegar. But it is pieces of lovely wine glasses I’ve more often bemoaned, shattered beyond repair.
My dear, always-helpful friend Matt broke a Riedel one night when he dashed to the kitchen to wash dishes after a dinner party. I saw him, sponge in hand, reach for the glass, the last drops of a fine cabernet sauvignon clinging to the bottom.
“That’s okay, Matt,” I began, “I am happy to wash . . .” but it was too late. The glass blew apart, as if a small firecracker exploded from the inside.
“Oops, how did that happen?” Matt puzzled, picking pieces from the soapy water.
I used to mourn the loss of fine things until I realized how much I learn each time. My beheaded angel, crushed glasses, and torn robe all remind me the care required of a fine thing. Each loss offers a lesson in renewal. The finest things, after all, promise treasure far greater than crystal, glass, or lace.
Performed by Liam Nesson, a burly, brave Rob Roy gently touches the light, wispy strands of his wife’s hair and whispers in a thick brogue, “Do ya know how fine ya are to me, Mary MacGregor?” Fine, indeed — and he nearly trembles for fear of damaging this most fine of all things.
I have felt this same tremble — as I watch my husband about his business, tackling the demands of his job, determined to provide for his family, loudly clapping a friend on the back, blowing clouds of cigar smoke over a pool table, kneeling in prayer and gratitude before his loving God. Sometimes it is just the cut of his jaw line that catches my eye — like light tossed off a perfectly pink, lace-wrapped ornament. In such moments, I think, “My goodness, he is fine.”
He is, after all, the Creator’s gift to me — a fine thing from the Divine; the finest of things I am given to care for. “A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (Prv 31: 10-12).
My broken angel, crushed glass, and lace destroyed all call me to diligence, patience, and awareness in the caring of this man — the finest gift I have been given.

Marjorie Campbell


Marjorie Campbell is an attorney and speaker on social issues from a Catholic perspective. She lives in San Francisco with her family and writes a regular column, "On the Way to the Kingdom," for Catholic Womanhood at CNA.