When I was a kid I remember my parents taking us to one of those glass blowing shops where they crafted a small glass figurine right in front of you. I was fascinated at how the glass would bend and twist under the heat like molten liquid but once it cooled you didn’t dare try to bend it. I remember getting my initial made and then stained in my favorite color, green. I can still remember my small head peeking up over the ledge to get a closer look at the workmanship, standing to my tippy toes in an effort to make myself just a bit taller.
Last week, I had the privilege of taking my children to watch artisan glass blowers create an intricate vase right before our eyes. Instead of peering over ledges on our tip toes, the glass shop had us sit in the same room as the craftsman about thirty feet from the fiery kilns. Despite large fans blowing to keep the room cool, we could still feel the extreme temperatures on our skin as we watched the workers begin the process.
First a small piece of glass (silica, soda ash and borax) is pulled from the large kiln. It is a bright piece of molten glass that looks like a miniature sun and seems just as bright.
The craftsman uses a long stainless steel pipe, called a blowpipe, to transfer air from his mouth into the hot glass attached at the other end. He blows it into a small bubble and then rolls it onto a steel table to make a circle or sphere, actually. He takes turns blowing air into the glass and rolling it onto the table to make the desired shape before returning it to the kiln for another layer of glass. Once removed from the kiln, he blows again into the steel pipe and rolls it onto the flat surface until it is no longer round, but oblong.
He takes much time to get the oblong shape so perfectly oblique that we are all surprised when he takes one end and begins to twist the piece into a sort of double helix. He then returns the object to the kiln adding another layer of glass and so on and so forth until the double helix is no longer on the outside, but just a pattern on the inside. Two craftsmen worked in tandem to look for symmetry, flaws, small bubbles or other nuances in the piece.
When the piece is mostly done, the two craftsmen hold it under a blow torch to work through the last stages of hand-crafting. They hold it under the blow torch to keep the glass hot and pliable without having to return it to the kiln each time. The piece remains attached to the steel pipe for the entire crafting process until the very end when one of the two craftsmen takes a small hammer and carefully, but forcefully, breaks the entire piece from the steel. With a blow torch, they reheat the point where they broke it and even it out with a flat stamp – creating a base.
Finally, the vase is placed into an oven to cool. More heat. 24 hours later, the vase is taken from the oven and allowed to cool. It is at this time that it begins to show what the artisan refers to as it’s “true colors” – meaning it will change colors as it cools.
My husband and I have been in the heat for some time. I mean figurative heat and quite literally, the heat of the Arizona desert.
I do not like the heat. Never have. I’ve always preferred cooler temperatures where I can layer clothes, wear boots and see my breath. If you see your breath in Arizona it’s because it was your last gasp on earth and your innards have turned to dust. Not a lot of layers to wear or breaths to be seen here.
But as I sat and watched two artisan glass blowers create something beautiful and amazing and fragile and intricate out of silica, soda ash and borax and lots of fiery heat, I thought maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe the heat is exactly where we need to be. Our life has some very beautiful moments. Moments you snap and post to the instagram of your mind. That beauty is born out of the moments after being placed in the furnace. See, we don’t make a lot of memories IN the fire. It’s once we are out of the furnace and in the cooling oven where we pause and take note of where we are.
It is the moments just after the furnace when the craftsman takes your life and begins to smooth out your shape as he rolls you onto the cooler surface. Just when you think you are done, he returns you to the heat to add more life to your years, more layers, a twisty pattern not to be seen on the outside, but on the inside. No, you cannot touch the pattern, but you can see it because the glass surrounding you is clear. That is until you are placed yet again into the heat of the oven to cool down while time allows your “true colors” to form.
Most of us look at the heat as unbearable. Myself included.
The heat is what makes us who we are. It is where we learn what we are made of and most of the time I’m not interested in knowing.
I’ve fought it (ever see a stray ember trying to escape a bonfire? That’s me).
I’ve screamed in the furnace.
I’ve cried in the furnace and no matter how many tears fall in that fiery place, there are never enough to cool it even just a bit. It’s unrelenting heat must do it’s work.
But when the craftsman pulls you from the furnace and forcefully but swiftly breaks you from that steel blowpipe, your true colors will show.
You will emerge a work of art. Someone created out of fire. Someone created over time. Someone created with patience and care. Someone with intricacies only those willing to see will find.
If you are in the fire, hang on.
The craftsman still has you on that steel blowpipe and you aren’t done. You will emerge stronger, more beautiful (if not more fragile) and more intricate than you could ever imagine.
I’ve been in the fire enough times to know, we all make it out okay.
A little hot at first, but once we cool our true colors will emerge and when they hit the sunlight just right, we will be reminded that the fire is only temporary.
Beauty is permanent.