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     Gild the lily: To add ornament or decoration to something that is pleasing in its original state; to attempt to improve something that is already fine the way it is. – The Free Dictionary

      She was probably 30.

It’s often hard to tell these days.

She reminded me of my niece – wholesomely pretty, brown hair, and hazel eyes filled with expression.

My wife and I were searching for that perfect coffee table (she was searching, I was accompanying) and the young woman wondered if we were finding what we were seeking.

Actually, no, and eventually I drifted off into the reclining chair department, where my path again intersected with hers. I explained that I was a writer and was doing some informal research on body piercings.

She asked what it was that I wanted to know, and I said, well, I note that you wear a nose ring and I wondered why.

She didn’t miss a beat. Apparently this has come up before.

She said: “When I applied for this job, I left the ring in. In the past I took it out, but I decided this time that it would be misleading.

“Employers are much more open and understanding than they used to be,” she said.
Yes, I’m sure they are, I agreed. But again, why the nose ring?

“It is self expression,” she said. “I am making a statement about who I am.”

I then asked her if she had heard of the saying, “You can’t gild the lily.”

A flicker of recognition flashed across her face, but then she said: “Not really.” So I said, “Look, it’s just a saying, and it’s from Shakespeare.  It really applies to you. When you get home tonight, just Google ‘gilding the lily’ and the verse from the play ‘King John’ will come up.  I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.”

She thanked me, and I was thankful that I hadn’t offended her.

Piercings and tattoos have gone mainstream.  It used to be that when I met a retail employee who took it to an extreme and looked as though he had dunked his face in a fishing tackle box I felt surprise, then sympathy and finally, confusion.

I understand the various motivations for piercings and tattoos. Some think they augment their physical appearance. Others are rebelling against convention. Still others want to be “in” with a trend.

This from Shakespeare’s “King John:”


“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,

To throw a perfume on the violet,

To smooth the ice, or add another hue

Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light

To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,

Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”

April 3, 2019