Annealed


Inner fire

There is a process of dealing with a piece of metal that goes like this; heat it red hot and it becomes more flexible.  That may seem axiomatic, but work with me a moment.  If you heat a piece of copper to red-hot, it too becomes bendable.  The irony is that after a few back and forth motions it becomes “work hardened” and is less bendable but can be more functional for other things than bending like a toy.  It has a useable characteristic that allows for the item to be of value to the user.  Items vary from a funnel or a pipe, a dish or a water pitcher perhaps, and stays hardened and without splits and cracks that would come if you tried to bend it before heating.  This process is called “annealing”.  It is done in a few ways but is basically the heating to a specific temperature and then cooled.  It is most times cooled by leaving it is the oven, but can be quenched in oil as well. This will come back to us later.

There is another thing that is similar, and it called “heat treating”.  This is where you take a piece of steel that has been melted and poured into the shape of something and allowed to cool and solidify.  Then it is brought to an oven, heated to a high temp and then pressed or “hammer forged” into a shape.  This item is then Reheated to nearly melting temperatures for a certain period of time, then allowed to cool slowly while in the oven or dipped in the oil.  This takes a while, depending on the mass involved, but there is a curious thing that happens.  That is that the molecules transform into some homogenous set of units and the stress lines that were a part of the original forged piece are transformed into a piece that is without any stress differences.  There is another thing that happens though and that is that it is now able to be machined by a cutting and milling machine and the piece is capable of this without splitting and ripping chunks out or fracturing from the forces that make it into something useable and of value.

There are two other common items that have this same type of transformation.  One is the rubber in the tires on your car.  This item is made by having layers of rubber belting being wrapped onto a mold that makes the specific tire needed.  Tractors, cars, trucks, loaders, race cars all have different needs and treads, but the tire goes through the same process.  A form, rubber belts then heat and pressure.  This doesn’t just “melt” the rubber into the form of the tire, it changes it at the “molecular” level.  It has a name called “vulcanization” and is the result of the molecules changing in such a manner that they cannot be put back into new tires.  It is not “rubber” any more, they are “tires”.  They cannot be undone or reused for new tires, and can only be made into something completely different, like a track for running, or ground into a type of mulch or burned in a power plant.  They are so radically different from what it was, it cannot go back.

The next in this group is certainly not the last.  But is a common thing.  It is the transformation of a blend of clay into the result known as a sink.  Often it is misnamed Porcelain, but the real name is Vitreous China.  More often it is the toilet in your house, but either way it is the result of two things.  Heat and time that is transforming.  When making Vitreous China your mold of the item needed is made larger than the resulting product desired.  So, there is a calculation to make, and you need to know how much the heated item will shrink, and in what ways it will reduce in size. The issue is more than this, however.  It is a molecular change that never allows it to go back to what it was.  Different than simple pottery or clay, it is heated to a level that is not just bonding, but transformative.  This is so radically different that there is no comparison to the original.  It is not in the same field of play and never will again be so.

It is the difference between the act of grace and gracious acts.  You can give food to the hungry or socks to the homeless, but to be tenderized by their experience is different.  To know that the grandpa of a friend passed away is not the same as your own child.  There is a knowing about and a knowing, and once the knowing occurs, there is no going back.  You are transformed. 

There are two options though, and they are different as well.  Bitterness and sorrow are not the same, though both will have tears.  Broken and brittle.  Hot and angry tears are chemically different than their alternative of joyful tears.  Sorrow and weeping that is the purification of a night of conversation with the Almighty is a far different thing than wringing justice from the stars and moon with lamentations and a spirit of revenge and betrayal.  One will bring restoration and the other destruction. As such, neither will be the same again either.  Both are options and at times will look the same from afar.  It is then time to draw near and to see from inside the curtain, the hope or hate.  They will be there if you will but look.

There is more.  Steel is a material that is annealed often, but so is glass, brass, silver and even silicon wafers for your computer.  The idea is easily explained with steel so follow on.  Molten steel is poured into a form or mold.  It is then allowed to congeal and harden into a solid and then cooled.  To forge it into the drive shaft of your car it is cut to size and then reheated to near melting temperatures.  It is placed into a forge and pressed or “crushed” under many tons of pressure and formed into a rough shape of the desired product.  It needs to be machined and polished but there is a problem.  The crushing misaligns the many molecules into a variety of no compatible formation.  To begin the process of machining is to risk the damage and destruction of the piece and to waste the time and start over with a new one.  This is the obligation of the annealing process.  This is the process of “realignment”.  The need to heat to a near molten point again results in a product of uniformity and homogeneity of molecular structure.  It is not a “crushed product, but a new one.  Now comes the quenching.  It is slow, and for a reason.  The need to quench is different than the process.  The need is to allow the piece to complete the formation into a uniform product.  The process can vary.  Some versions include a gas chamber that keeps oxygen out of the product, some is a bath of oil or a molten salt that keeps the surface in contact with the liquid for maximum dissipation of heat in a controlled way.  To simply dip it in water boils that water at the surface and allow bubbles to form, resulting in a scale on the surface.  All are available, and all are different, and only the “wrong” process if it creates something unusable to your desire.

How does this work in the human? Why is it important? Have I seen this in others?  Sometimes we see it in its absence in others and we think, “Something isn’t quite right” with their actions or words.  At other times, it is personal and powerful in how we are formed in hard times under extreme conditions.  The crushing that takes place in forming us, and the desire to be done with it results in our resisting the need to go back in the oven for the “realignment” step needed to make us “at one” with ourselves.  We see it others.  We use this language frequently about people that we meet or know.  They are “at ease, or very peaceful, great listeners, so very friendly” and some other phrases as well. We are are naive about their story, and perhaps are inhibited about asking.  The reality is that you can’t get there except by the same journey.  Through the heat and then the bath.  Bathed in the gas, the oil or molten salt the result is the same. Heat, and Time, and Discomfort. A realignment of purpose and expectations.  The frustration is that we are looking for value external to the process rather than in the now of it.  It is the evidence that it is more important and needed, and not complete, the more anxious we are.  The knowledge that the journey is a simply critical has been lost on the immediacy of the pain.  There is a quote that hits home here: “If I let go of the anger, all that is left is pain”, James B… The more the anger at facing the fix, the more needed is the fix.  Like a surgeon that know the operation needs completed regardless of the moaning, the heat of annealing stays the course of time and temperature until the desired result is achieved. Our problem is that we are not in charge of what is desired.  Our perspective is too close to see the larger goal.

We do this with friends, if we do this at all.  We get close during the pain of the telling and we feel the heat.  Of the anger, the loss, the senselessness of it all.  If we will stay with them through this heating phase we will become “realigned” to them and transformed by this experience.  Our tears will mingle with theirs and this is the Quenching that is needed.  The time in the crucible of heat will relieve the stresses of the crushing blows of the forge and the salty tears will act as the quenching of the heat.  And we will be changed.  Both of us.  It will take the time to cool and to rest, and to breath again.  And without a word, as a glance is made and received, we will both know.  We can be of use again.  To another that is about to go through the heating and the Forge.  Annealing is a process of the act of forgiveness.  Some find this path and move through in a timely manner.  Others it is not so easy.  They may need to go through the heat of this process again, but it is theirs and their timing. That will be as it is.  Your job is to be ready when called upon.





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