For twenty years I’ve worn it, very aware of the message that it carries and the people from whom I received it. It never comes off (except for this photo), in part due to the eternal message of it. It’s a hopeful, optimistic, positive message, but one which seems a bit tarnished today, like the silver of the bracelet itself.
When I first received it and began wearing it, this Christmas gift from my children generated more than occasional teasing from friends and colleagues, who seemed to be of the mindset that somehow “real men” didn’t wear bracelets. In fact, once when a young Mexican boy was admiring the thing, a colleague playfully pulled the boy away, saying that he shouldn’t be looking at “girlie things.” (Twenty years ago, attitudes about many things were quite different from the present, as evidenced by the endless variety of bracelets, jewelry and other adornments worn by men of all ages and stations today.) These days, I’m more inclined to be asked where I found such a piece.
Of course, the bracelet is special to me because it was gifted from my kids, and at a time when they still carried around with them an air of innocence and joy. But it also carries a legend, this bracelet. Its circular shape represents the earth, the wholeness of the place where we live. But because the earth is broken- with conflicts and environmental degradation and wildly disparate conditions of life- the circle of the bracelet is not complete. There are pieces missing.
The four brass segments on the circle represent my kids. They each have a special place in the world, as do all children, and their duty is to help the earth back to a state of wholeness, to fill in the missing places as best they can, along with every other member of the human race. The earth will not be whole and healthy until the circle is complete. They and all of us have our own parts to play in the restoration, and each solitary piece is essential to the integrity and strength of the whole. It’s a notion of both hope and healthy interdependence.
Today there are sadly more missing pieces to this puzzle of life that we lead. Following a celebratory Saturday night in Managua, where thousands of people joyfully remembered the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship 35 years ago, hundreds of peasants from the countryside boarded buses for the long and uncomfortable ride back home. Along the way, two buses were attacked by anti-Sandinista sympathizers. Gunfire was sprayed at the buses, and five people died. There was no confrontation. There were no demands made. Simply bullets unleashed at innocent peasantry, resulting in the deaths of parents and children who had only sought to remember an important and exciting time in the life of Nicaragua. There are precious few things to celebrate for many in this country; a populist and public commemoration should not have been too much for them to experience without tragedy. As a result, there are now 5 new pieces missing from the completion of the circle that is represented by the bracelet. Among them, perhaps the one who would develop the medicinal properties of a rural Nicaraguan plant that would lead to the cure for prostate cancer.
Meanwhile, other senseless tragedies were being played out on far more “newsworthy” stages. A commercial airliner from The Netherlands and bound for Kuala Lampur was shot down by anti-Ukraine rebels, with 298 souls lost, and many still not found as of this writing. Among the perished, several would-be participants at an upcoming AIDS conference who might well have posed the solution to the AIDS epidemic facing our world. And so still more spaces will not be filled along the lines of the bracelet.
And in the Middle East, hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli lives- hundreds of them children- have been lost to the incessant bombing precipitated by the terrors generated by both sides of the insanity. Among the dead, perhaps, were the two young women who would have devised the plan of Middle East peace which eventually would have been accepted by all parties. And the spaces in the bracelet grow wider still.
The week has been a grim one, both in terms of the sheer number of lives lost and families rent apart in anguish, but also in consideration of those pieces of the worldly puzzle that are now lost forever. As we destroy each other with bombs and bullets, we diminish the planet and its finite capacities to discover the answers to our dilemmas. It is still true that often we do not fully understand or appreciate what we have within our grasp, until it is gone.
I love the bracelet for its symbolism of my children and their importance to this earthly community. They are universal children, whether I understood that at the time of their birth or not. But their solid presence on that broken circle at my wrist also reminds me that they- and each of us- possess a unique and important place in this complex place called earth….