You Were: The Miner
December 1, 2010
You were born in the sixteenth century in what is now northeastern Afghanistan. Your family, descendants of Alexander the Great, had ruled the land for centuries. On the day you were born, your grandfather was murdered and another man seized the throne. By the time you reached your teens, your once wealthy family’s sole source of income was a tiny mine. That single hole in the ground would eventually bring you both fame and fortune.
Lapis lazuli is one of nature’s miracles—a stone so perfectly blue that it looks as though it must have fallen straight from the heavens. That’s why the ancient Egyptians offered it to their dead. Why Buddhists decorated their most magnificent temples with it. And why many Renaissance painters would have murdered their mothers for a small bottle of the heavenly pigment made from ground lapis lazuli—a color they called ultramarine.
The problem was, lapis lazuli doesn’t fall from the heavens. It has to be dug up in mines. And the best mine in the world was the one owned by your family.
Since your grandfather’s death, your life hadn’t been easy. Your parents had both been raised in luxury and had no idea how to navigate the real world. Who knows what might have happened to them if they hadn’t produced a marketing genius.
When you were thirteen, you got tired of all their moaning and decided to take control of the lapis lazuli mine. That’s when you discovered just how bad things really were. The hole produced a handful of stones each month. They were exceptionally pretty and unusually blue. But the day you went to the market with them, you found yourself just one of a hundred people trying to sell pretty blue rocks.
Later that afternoon, your father almost fainted when he found you grinding a month’s worth of stones into a fine powder. When you had finished, you poured the powder into a small glass bottle and returned to the market. You sat there for two days with the bottle in front of you. Finally a man approached. He was an artist, and he wanted the ground lapis lazuli to use for paint.
“No,” you said. “This is the finest ultramarine in the entire world. I won’t sell it for any price until I know if your work is worth it.”
Word spread quickly that a young woman in Afghanistan was selling the world’s best ultramarine. In less than a year, the great painters of Italy were sending representatives to see you. You refused to sell them your wares since you’d never seen their work. Their royal patrons begged you to reconsider. Even the Pope sent an emissary. Finally one painter made the long journey to see you himself, with several of his canvases strapped to his mule. You’d seen work that was just as good, but you’d never seen anyone quite like him before.
The two of you lived in Italy for the rest of your lives, rich, respected, and surrounded by your favorite color.