By Bill Harley
If the story told in a previous blog of losing and finding my first lost ring were not incredible enough, I lost a second ring not long after finding the first one; and the circumstances and significances in the losing and finding were just as amazing to me.
Reading that earlier blog before this one will aid your understanding of this one. That story took place at the time Jean’s and my publisher had accepted our one long book under the condition that we split it into two books. The loss of the first ring shortly thereafter triggered a cascade of events that guided us to the successful extrication of what became our first book from its entanglement with what became our second book; and to the publication and launching of that first book, Now That I’m Here, What Should I Be Doing.
One might think that, after extracting the first book from the original long book, one could quickly and easily tidy-up what remained and have a completed second book ready for publication. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Since we had spent a decade researching and writing the original long book, we had integrated the subjects so tightly that, after the extrication of the first book, the remaining pages that needed to become the second book were as pock marked as the surface of the moon. As before, we agreed that I would take the lead in creating a first draft of the second book; and then we would go through a back and forth collaborative process of editing, rewriting, and re-editing until we were both satisfied.
As with the first book, I again struggled to buckle down and get the first draft completed. The struggle was partly due to weariness from completing the first book; it was also due to the fact that the second book was more complicated than the first book and needed to read like a detailed manual for decision-making and problem-solving rather than a straight-forward narrative like the first book. I worked sporadically from mid-summer to early September in Minnesota and was not proud of my progress; I began praying daily for the energy and focus to complete my task.
Only a few days later, the school year began; and this meant that I started picking up my granddaughter, Sofia, at her elementary school each weekday at 2:00 PM so that she could be with Jean and me until evening when her parents came home from work. I picked her up each day at a rear doorway to the school where parents and grandparents waited to pick up their children.
There was a school playground adjoining this doorway and when the kids came roaring out of the school, they would beg their loved ones to let them play on the playground equipment before going home. I usually succumbed to this appeal; and on a mid-September day was pushing Sofia on the swings and helping her learn to climb on one apparatus after another when I realized that my gold wedding ring was no longer on my finger.
This was only about four months after the silver ring I had previously lost had almost miraculously been returned to me; and I felt an immediate sense of panic and embarrassment that now I had lost my wedding ring! How sloppy could I get? And how could I expect to be so fortunate as to get a second lost ring returned to me?
I knew I had lost the ring at the playground, so Sofia and I began searching for it in the deep sand at the base of all the playground equipment we had been on. Before long, several of her friends and numerous schoolmates were helping us “search for gold”. I was touched to see the group of searchers enlarge to about 15 children earnestly questioning me about where we had been and digging through the sand. We found nothing that first day; and many of the children continued searching with us in the days that followed to no avail.
After about a week, I thought that someone in the neighborhood might find the ring and would have no way to return it. So I went to the school office and reported the loss. In addition, one of the parents I knew who lived in the neighborhood volunteered to post a message about the lost wedding ring on the Nextdoor Digest website for that neighborhood. There were no responses in the weeks that followed.
By early October, all searching had stopped except for mine. Each day while Sofia played, I would search around the playground retracing the steps I remembered us taking on that fateful day, turning over the sand in hopes of seeing a flash of gold, and even combing through the grass at the perimeter of the playground where we may have walked. Finding the ring increasingly seemed hopeless. I pictured it deep in the sand underneath the playground equipment and wondered what could ever bring it back to the surface to be found.
Towards the end of October with the onset of the Minnesota winter chilling the air, I rented a metal detector in one last effort to find the ring before the ground would freeze and be buried under deep snow. I found a few coins, but not my wedding ring.
As I continued working fitfully on the second book, I ruminated constantly about the fact that again, I was searching for a ring I had lost. Was this just a random event or did it have real significance? I had to admit that the themes of the Watchman Parable which played such a large part in our first book and in the earlier loss and recovery of my silver ring seemed to be at work again in my life.
That parable tells the story of a lover who has become separated from his beloved and has been unsuccessfully seeking her for long years. He comes to a point where he can no longer bear her absence and goes on a quest to relieve his suffering. During his quest, he is obstructed and chased by “watchmen”—people who seem intent on harming him and driving him off course. Ultimately, the lover is cornered by the watchmen and, to escape them, he climbs a high wall with great difficulty and, giving up his life, throws himself into the darkness on the other side. He lands in a garden; and there he unexpectedly finds his beloved “searching for a ring she had lost”.
The lover immediately realizes that, rather than obstructing him, the watchmen forces have actually guided him to his beloved; and that these guiding forces have been sent by God for his own growth and development. He concludes that forces of both obstruction and support can be veiled guidance from the Creator and that he must learn from these forces rather than resist them.
Consequently, after the loss of my first ring (the silver one which I called my “spiritual” ring), Jean and I used Compassionate Consultation to figure out that I was being guided to focus on drafting the “spiritual” book first rather than working on both books simultaneously. Now, I was working on the second book about Compassionate Consultation and, with the loss of the second ring (the gold one), I struggled to understand what the guidance was.
As before, I asked Jean to use Compassionate Consultation with me to try to answer that question. We concluded as before that the beloved’s search for her ring in the parable seemed to represent a search for completion; and we were now seeking completion of the second book.
While I had considered the first lost ring to be my “spiritual” ring, we concluded that the second lost ring, my wedding ring, was my “relationship” ring—it symbolized my primary relationship with Jean; my relationships with our children and grandchildren; and by extension, my relationship to the family of humankind. Clearly, the second book is about how to make transformative and just decisions that unite rather than divide human relationships at all levels.
We also concluded that this lost ring represented the absence of human capacity in the modern world to make such transformative decisions; and that the wall I needed to scale was to bring intense urgency to the completion of this book draft so that we could more rapidly share this divinely-revealed methodology with a suffering humanity.
As soon as these conclusions resulted from Jean’s and my Compassionate Consultation, I was transformed. I found myself so infused with energy that I became obsessed with finishing the first draft of the second book. In the following days, I sacrificed everything that was non-essential in my life and focused only on completing the draft, and did so in just a few weeks. Then Jean and I completed, in another few weeks, the still more difficult back and forth process of editing, rewriting, and re-editing until we were both satisfied with the final draft. We turned the manuscript over to the publisher in the latter part of December; and we basked in the “beloved” of completion.
Once again, we realized that the watchman forces—the need to separate the one book into two books, the frustration of my early attempts to buckle down on the second book draft, my prayers for divine assistance, the loss of the second ring, the failure to find it, the thought and consultative process it spawned leading us to reframe the task at hand, and the intense energy this process released to scale the wall and find the beloved of completion—all of them reflected the hand of divine guidance. Once again, my prayers had been answered with the loss of a ring, which triggered a cascade of both struggle and positive outcomes.
My only lingering regret was the loss of my wedding ring—my “relationship” ring—as the ransom for our new awareness and achievement. Jean suggested that we just buy a new one; but my heart was sentimentally longing for the original ring she had given me on our wedding day. All through the long winter months that followed, when I picked up Sofia at her school, I continued to scan the snow-covered playground and wonder whether the ring was still there—frozen somewhere under the sand.
The first lost ring had been returned to me within a week of our completing the final draft of the first book. By early spring in Minnesota it had been five months since our completion of the final draft of the second book; and I concluded my wedding ring was lost forever.
But then an interesting thing happened. Some of our readers in the local region asked for a venue in which to deepen understanding of the concepts and practices in our two books. Our response to this was to ask two other people who had been very helpful to us in the development of our two books to meet with us as a steering team; and out of the Compassionate Consultation in this first meeting the concept for the Growth Lab, an on-going action learning gathering, was born.
After this meeting, Jean and I commented to each other that the “relationship” ring, while still lost, was continuing to gestate, strengthen and expand relationships; and that maybe establishing the Growth Lab was a final part of the wall we needed to scale.
A few days later, I received an excited phone call from the person who months before had posted a message about the lost wedding ring on the Nextdoor Digest website for the neighborhood surrounding the school. He said that a woman had posted about finding a gold wedding ring in the school playground and offered to return it to any person who could prove they were the owner. Her phone number was provided.
In a state of both disbelief and wonder, I called the woman and told her about the loss of my ring. The ring she described sounded like it could be mine. Then she said, “There is an engraving on the inside wall of the ring—can you tell me what it says?” I said, “If it is my ring, the inner wall is engraved with Jean’s and my initials and the wedding date as follows: “JKD to WBH 6-7-69”.
After a pause, she said, “Your ring is no longer lost!” As I hung up the phone, I wiped tears from my eyes.
The next evening I stopped by her home, met her husband and two small children, and she handed me the ring I had lost. I thanked her profusely and gave her a copy of our first book so that she could appreciate the role she and her children had played in my spiritual journey. Then I asked, “Where exactly did you find the ring?” She said, “In the sand right below one of the swings.” I asked, “Had you and your kids been digging in the sand?” “No”, she replied, “it was sitting in clear view right on top of the sand.”
Driving home, I marveled at the idea of my ring being lost beneath the sand for so many months and then somehow being borne aloft to the surface to be found at that very moment. I said a prayer of thanks to the Creator.
Some readers relying only on their material eyes will conclude that I lost two rings one after the other, I was very lucky to find them, the events were entirely random, and there was no meaning beyond this.
Other readers who see happenings with both their spiritual and material eyes will recognize in these events the seeking of beloveds; guiding watchman forces masquerading as calamities or helpers; the appearance of walls that need to be scaled for growth; the marshaling of great energies and Compassionate Consultation to understand and scale these walls; the sudden, unexpected discovery of beloveds; and all of these dynamics unfolding under the influence and attentive gaze of a loving Creator.
To better understand how these tailored, guiding forces impact your life, read our first book, Now That I’m Here, What Should I Be Doing? To understand the process of Compassionate Consultation that Jean and I used to discover what was trying to happen in our lives, read our second book, TRANSFORMED: How to Make the Decisions That Change Your Life.