In the third grade I was first introduced to the “touchstone” concept. It was early on a Monday morning, before school officially began but when great learning often took place. While standing in a small circle with some of the girls in my class, a boy named Albert Allen cautiously approached. Phyllis paused mid-sentence and Jacqueline rolled her eyes, upward and slightly to the left to announce the arrival of a boy into our private circle.
Albert was unaware of his faux pas and shouldered his way into the circle as I and the other girls remained silent and stared down at our shoes.
“I want to show you something.” He turned as he spoke, so as to make sure he was addressing everyone in the group. Albert was a polite boy who lived directly across the street from our school and had never been absent since the first day of Kindergarten.
Digging into the pocket of his khaki colored pants, he withdrew a small rock. We were not impressed.
He held the rock up high. This allowed the sunlight to hit it just so and the sharp edges seemed to stick out in a three-dimensional way. It was kind of cool, but now we had seen it and just wanted Albert to go away so we could talk some more before the bell rang.
Undeterred by our lack of enthusiasm, he continued.
“You think this is just a rock, but it’s not. It’s more. It’s a touchstone and it’s special.”
I thought about this for a second. Was it touch stone or touchstone? We were learning about compound words that meant something quite different than what each word meant all by itself. Maybe this was one of those and I could raise my hand and share it with the teacher. Or maybe Albert meant it was a stone you could touch. Everyone would laugh if I hadn’t understood him correctly. I tuned back in as he continued speaking.
Albert Allen went on to tell a story about his grandfather, and how he had come for a visit all the way from someplace in Canada just to bring him this rock. Grandpa Allen had told him stories about the rock and Albert had taken it all in as factual information he was compelled to share. As he droned on until the bell rang and we had to get in line to go inside to our classroom, my mind wandered. I never heard the end of the story, or the point he was attempting to make. But almost five decades later I recalled this moment as one of my own touchstones.
A touchstone refers to any physical or intellectual measure by which the validity or merit of a concept can be tested. A touchstone can refer to a person, an experience, or a concept. They can also be based on a memory, and idea, a piece of music, a specific date, or an item, such as a piece of clothing or a gift. My favorite light blue jacket was my “please” and “thank you” touchstone when I was incorporating those words into my repertoire as a young child.
The “Three Touchstones of Good Writing” are sometimes discussed in oral interpretation or literature classes. These are universality, individuality, and suggestion and are the three essential ingredients in all successful writing.
What I am referring to here are physical, psychological, and emotional reminders of something related to your life. A touchstone can be a personal symbol or emblem that represents your dream and that helps you to stay on track and stay true to your vision. I can remember my first kiss every time I see a Stingray bike with a banana seat because this is what I was riding when Bill McCool flagged me down in front of his house and leaned in to kiss me. When I smell coffee brewing I’m reminded of the day I received my letter of acceptance to UCLA. And when I hear the Beatles’ Let It Be I feel like it takes me back to the summer I spent with my cousins after my uncle died of a heart attack.
Most recently, I picked up two pennies off the ground. The first one was heads up and was located along the trail where I go walking most mornings. The second one showed up a day later. It was on the sidewalk as I was leaving a friend’s house and heading to my car. I chose to think of these as my newest touchstones and believe they are reminders of the power within me to achieve my goals and dreams. As I turn them over in my pocket I think about where I was when I found each of them and what I was thinking about at the time.
What if you intentionally created touchstones as a way to record and make sense of your life? Would these be any different from the ones that appear and take hold more serendipitously? I think about the time I met my friend and co-author, Geoff Hoff at a coffee shop in Westwood, California to give him an iPad for his birthday. He had ridden his bicycle there to meet me and as we sat across from each other at the table and he teared up when I handed him the package I knew this would be a memory for the ages. Little did I know Geoff would pass away unexpectedly just over a year later. When I want to be reminded of our friendship and the love for so many things that we shared, I conjure up my feelings and the senses that were engaged on that sunny, crisp October morning in 2014.
Life is filled with moments. Some are more meaningful than others at the time they occur. Later on we look back and discover that one in particular had a huge impact on us as we moved forward. I’ve written about these and one I shared about a special book I read comes to mind.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, relying on touchstones to enhance my life experience as I move through my journey each day. Join me for my Action Habits Challenge and share your touchstone story with our community.