The Way of Beauty Pearls of Great Price

Pearls FergieFam007 Flickr

Why are pearls considered the world's most mysterious of gems? Because of their origin and the manner in which they are formed.  

Pearls come from shell fish, the most common of which is the oyster.  When a grain of sand enters and irritates the soft part of the oyster, a new substance is formed called nacre, a protective covering, the mother-of-pearl.  Within approximately six months, a pearl emerges from the shell as a radiant gem requiring no processing.  

The Queen and Her Wardrobe of Pearls

Elizabeth I ruled as Queen of England for forty years until her death in 1603.  Abstemious in many ways, she nevertheless fed her extravagant fondness for pearls-thousands of pearls. Her crowns were adorned mainly with pearls.  Imbedded into her starched and lacy coronets, her 3,000 gowns and 80 wigs were pearls. Necklaces, earrings, pendants, and yes, shoes-adorned with pearls-pearls of great price.

Women with Pearls

There were other famous women who delighted in wearing pearls but to a lesser degree: Czarina Alexandra of Russia, Princess Grace of Monaco, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Princess Diana, Sophia Loren, and Elizabeth Taylor.  Vermeer's painting, "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" has piqued the interest of 17th-century art enthusiasts.

Pearls of the Mind

The desire for education can stimulate the intellect in much the same way as a grain of sand 'irritates' the oyster.  Another aspect of pearls-pearls of the mind.  

"Born Yesterday"

In 1951, Judy Holliday won an Oscar for her role as Billie Dawn in "Born Yesterday."  

In the movie, she plays the brassy live-in girlfriend of Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), a dishonest junk dealer.  For him, she's the proverbial 'dumb broad.' No intellectual prize himself, he sports a personality, loud and crude.  They take up residence in Washington D.C. where Harry's shady dealings focus on politicians. He pays Paul Verrell (William Holden), a bright journalist in search of a story on him, to smooth out Billie's rough edges. She's ill-prepared for relating to the Washington elite.  

With Paul as her guide, the two visit historic places. Billie learns about the underpinnings of American democracy found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. She had no idea!  

Encouraged by her desire for self-improvement, Paul supplies her with books on western civilization.  She relates to ancient and modern philosophers; the dictionary becomes her friend as do museums and classical music. Learning has become its own reward; the life of the mind, fulfilling. Never again will she return to her former life.  Billie wears, she owns pearls of great price which cannot be taken from her.

At commencements, it is not at all unusual to find a handful of students beyond college-age to be awarded various degrees.  Someone or something prompted them to pursue their education.  The result? It has enriched them personally and expanded their desire for self- improvement. Taking that first step was the most challenging. Once these basics were overcome, learning for its own sake became exhilarating.  With their newfound pearls of the mind, they experienced new life.  

The Pearls of Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) and Thomas More (1478-1535)

The future wife of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon was educated by outstanding tutors. What did she study? Arithmetic, canon and civil law, classical literature, genealogy and heraldry, history, philosophy, religion, and theology. Her strong religious Catholic upbringing would play a major role in later life. Fluent in Spanish and Latin, French and Greek, she also learned domestic skills, cooking, dancing, drawing, embroidery, good manners, lace-making, music, needlepoint, sewing, spinning, and weaving.  Of female monarchs, this accomplished woman had no rivals.

During Catherine's twenty-year marriage to Henry VIII, the two monarchs enjoyed a marriage of minds, she a formidable match for him.  Before issuing decrees, Henry asked Catherine for her opinion and her seal of approval.  She made certain her daughter Mary was well educated, and she promoted learning among her subjects. Throughout Henry's devious pursuit of a divorce from the Catherine and his determination to put her away to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn, she steadfastly protested her marriage to be true.  Through it all, she held fast to her faith, the pearl of great price.

More in The Way of Beauty

In 1529, King Henry VIII appointed Sir Thomas More as Lord Chancellor.

An outstanding scholar and jurist, Thomas More was perhaps the most learned and respected layman throughout the Tudor realm. This honor was short-lived however. Within three years, Thomas resigned the Office when, in conscience, he opposed Henry's usurpation of papal powers in England and defended the Pope as the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church. Thomas' wife Lady Alice derided his decision to relinquish his Office.  In Robert Bolt's play, "A Man for All Seasons," the dialogue following the return of the seal of his Office goes as follows:

Alice:  So there's an end of you.  What will you do now-sit by the fire and make goslings in the ash?

Thomas:  Not at all, Alice, I expect I'll write a bit, I'll read, I'll think.  I think I'll learn to fish! I'll play with my grandchildren-when son Roper has done his duty.  (Eagerly) Alice, shall I teach you to read?

Alice:  No, by God!

Thomas valued the pearls of the mind while Lady Alice shunned them. 

Thomas tried to find a legal way to take the Oath of Supremacy, required of all subjects, without compromising his conscience-that "moral squint," Cardinal Wolsey called it.  But to no avail. He could not give his consent to the King's divorce, a refusal that sealed his fate.  Moments before his execution, Thomas professed:  "I die the King's good servant but God's first."  His faith-the pearl of great price.  

(Column continues below)

A Wake-up Call

Average American children spend from six to eight hours a day attracted or addicted to screens.  In a study entitled The Learning Habit, conducted over a three-year period, family routines in 50,000 homes were canvassed in the United States with children in grades K-12. After 45minutes of media use, children's grades, sleep, social skills, and emotional balance start to decline.   

Increasing numbers of parents, including those CEOs in the Tech industry, are placing stringent media rules on their children. During the school week, there is no use of electronics, and on weekends, only a limited use … and never in their bedrooms.  Parents are requiring their children to read books, books they can hold in their hands, this in addition to doing their homework.  

In a New York Times piece by Nick Bilton (Sept 10, 2014), it was reported that Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now executive of 3D Robotics, has instituted time limits and parental controls on every device in his home.  "My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules," he said of his five children, 6-17.  "That's because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.  I've seen it in myself, and I don't want to see that happen to my kids."  Pornography is the first harmful content, then bullying from others, and perhaps the worst of all, becoming addicted to their devices.

Steve Jobs, the genius of high-tech was a low-tech parent who valued education, the pearl of the mind. Walter Isaacson, the author of Steve Jobs, spent a great deal of time at the Jobs' home.  "Every evening, Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen discussing books and history and a variety of things," Isaacson narrates. "No one pulled out an iPad or computer.  The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices."

Can families resist the current electronic trend by not moving with its flow?  Pearls of the mind lead to pearls of truth and to the pearl of great price.

Image credit: Pearls by FergieFam007 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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