08/09/2013 08:59 am ET Updated Oct 08, 2013

A Prism of Inner Beauty


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by guest blogger Renee A. James, essayist and blogger

The beautiful, confounding, and kind of miraculous thing about bright white light is that it's nothing of the kind. The gorgeous, soft spectrum of color that emerges when a ray of light passes through a crystal prism is so simple but so spectacular. What feels straightforward is complex. What looks obvious is layered. The expected becomes surprising.

With each bit of sunshine that passes through it or reflects off one of its many facets, the crystal prism that adorns my eastern kitchen window reminds me of one simple fact: Not everything is entirely what it appears to be.

When I think of the people I've loved in this life and lost--people like my mom, who will always be one of the strongest women I've ever known--I begin to realize they are exactly like a prism when it catches the light. To the world, to family and friends, and especially to her children, my mother felt solid and straightforward, obvious and expected. But only now that she's gone do I see her as a prism of light and begin to acknowledge and appreciate her complexity, her nuance. Only now am I discovering the layers that made up the whole--layers that remained mostly unseen and emerged only very occasionally at just the right time and then were gone. Just like those prism rainbows. Layers that were just that beautiful.

I sip my coffee and watch the colors move across the table in the morning. They speak quietly, gently reminding me that what enters one side of a prism looks and feels quite different from what emerges on the other. Despite their soft edges, they almost demand that I acknowledge their layers. And whenever I do, I seem to uncover a few of my own, and welcome them. I find myself forgiving my mother's mistakes. I look beyond her baffling silence about so many things that are now left forever unanswered. I'm somehow able to reconcile myself to being unaware of her untold secrets and private pain. I think about the reality of my mother's life and understand now that even in the one of the most intimate of relationships, mother and daughter, not everything is seen, and that revelations come in their own time, not always in ours.

I celebrate the beauty in the crystal ornament. I lose myself in the reflections, the sparkle, the quiet elegance of the piece, and hear a voice as I do: "Be at peace. I'm here, in you and around you; look for me. I know there are surprising, complex, sometimes hidden, even confounding layers within all of us that look one way to the world but quite another when you catch them in just the right light. And I'll love yours forever."

Me too, Mom.

Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology,101 Damnations': A Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells(Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. Her blog, It's Not Me, It's You, addresses topics that mystify her on a regular basis.

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