This past Monday, I left my bracelet in the locker at my gym. Taking it
off in the first place was a hard habit to get into; I never remove it except
when I must -- my few hospital stays, airport security checkpoints and now,
when I swim.
But that day I left it behind when I gathered my things. I realized it
was missing about an hour after I got home, and rushed back to retrieve it. It
was gone: whoever found it did not turn it in, nor has it shown up in the days
There’s a story behind this bracelet, and a story behind that story. The
story is this: it belonged to my
grandmother, who bought it from a Native American on the side of a dirt road
somewhere in New Mexico or Arizona in the 1940’s. She and her husband had moved
to Colorado after the war and explored much of the American southwest and
Mexico by car, camping by roadsides. The bracelet is sand-cast silver and has
the signature of its maker – a small bird – on the inside.
Like me, my grandmother always wore it.
It’s one of my earliest memories of her. She gave it to me during a
last, long visit I made to see her – another in a series of solace-seeking trips
for some trouble or another I was going through. The bracelet had begun bruising
her thinning skin and she felt it was time to pass it on. Among all her granddaughters, she chose me:
the one she always felt was most like her.
The story behind the story is that of my grandmother. Born at the end
of the 19th century, she lived a fascinating life. From her early
days of privilege to the cash-strapped years of her teens, she had a fierce
intelligence and independence. Before
her marriage in 1918, she was a dancer in Greenwich Village and acted in plays
written for her by a doting playwright. She was also a member of the Socialist
Club, best known today from Warren Beatty’s film, Reds,
about one of its more famous members, John Reed.
Her marriage ended abruptly in 1929 when the car she was driving
collided with a train at a crossing in Nyack, New York, on a foggy April night.
My grandfather and another couple were killed; my grandmother spent 3 months recuperating
in the hospital. She never walked properly again.
She remarried in the 1940’s and moved to Colorado. Max was Swiss and
had also lived in South Africa before moving to the U.S., and he and my
grandmother took many trips together. Often their transportation was as exotic
as the trips themselves – tramp steamers and cargo planes, a reflection of Max’s
thriftiness. I always loved to visit them; their home was filled with African
masks, Peruvian pottery, Indian cloth and Chinese paper paintings, and smelled
of spices and faraway places.
Now I’ve lost the most visible connection to the grandmother I admired
and adored. It’s a visible, visceral
loss and I feel tears pricking my eyelids every time I think about it.
The bracelet may yet turn up. Whether it does or doesn’t, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Buddhist concept of attachment.
It’s a complex concept that’s often misinterpreted, but the explanation in this article does a reasonable job of summarizing: “Attachments are simple beliefs … that have become solidified as ‘truth’ in our minds. They also partake of the energy of desire, which is based on the underlying belief that without some particular person or thing, we can never be free from suffering.”
My attachment comes in equating this bracelet to my grandmother, and feeling like I’ve lost a part of myself in losing it. It comes in giving up the warm fantasy of passing it on to my own granddaughter someday, along with the stories that accompany it – my grandmother’s and my own.
In the end, it's just a thing, not a substitute for my life memories of my grandmother. I'll always carry those with me. Or so I remind myself as I once again unconsciously reach over to adjust the bracelet that's no longer around my wrist.