There's one piece of jewelry, however, that I have never removed and often overlook as being an extension of my body. It's a simple, tattered ankle bracelet. While I've long outgrown my hemp choker and woven bracelet phase, I adore this stringy, knotted, beaded anklet. It's not just a piece of jewelry with a story behind it. It is the story itself, a souvenir of some great time and place. For about six summers in a row through my adolescence I traveled with friends and groups and sometimes strangers to Nicaragua with a non-profit called Bridges to Community. The organization was in its infancy on my first trip at the age of 15. I ventured south of the border, my first international trip without one of my parents, alongside my childhood best friend Leanne and her father Dave to build houses with families left homeless after various hurricanes and revolutions. Two week stints were spent polishing my Spanish, dancing, mixing cement, laughing, bartering, carrying bags of sand, playing futbol, building rebar and laying blocks, swimming in shark infested fresh water lake Nicaragua, hiking volcanoes, eating rice and beans, and generally expanding my love of the world and its rich, diverse cultures.
It was on this first trip that we were introduced to a group of orphans who lived like the lost boys in what I remember to be tree houses by the lake. They ranged in age and learned early on to take care of themselves. One of the ways they did this was by making and selling bracelets. I'm sure it cost me about two dollars to buy the bracelet that I tied around my ankle, and I remember choosing the one that was the most beautiful, and the boys agreeing that it was perfect for me. I didn't have a plan for my ownership of the jewelry but it turned out that I never, ever wanted to remove it. It feels just right on my ankle, falling across the top of my foot, always reminding me of my years of service in Central America. No matter how annoying it is to have to remove my right sock carefully enough to avoid ripping the anklet, no matter how many weird puddles it leaves on sheets after I shower, no matter how old or ratty or out of fashion it might become, it is a symbol of my travels and friends, of my fortune having two living parents, and of the presence in my mind of people not being served by their government or peers or universe or whoever is supposed to make sure that kids don't get malaria and moms don't get asthma cooking tortillas all day.
You can imagine my surprise when I discovered last week it was missing.
For 15 years I feared what would happen if I ever lost my ankle bracelet. I assumed it would be due to nothing less tragic than severing my foot from my leg or being victimized by grabby trolls while crossing a bridge. I stood in my closet, eyes wide open, staring at my naked ankle. Friends were waiting downstairs so I didn't want to take the time to search my house obsessively. Being winter, I hoped that it couldn't be much farther than tangled an inside-out sock or tight pair of pants, but I didn't know what to do and realized that it could actually be anywhere. I picked up my drink and remained calm, completely shocked at my lack of hysterical bawling. My favorite piece of jewelry, my bastion of worldly adventure was gone. What would I do?
Like any good disaster sister, I ate and drank enough to be distracted and explained the situation in passing as if it didn't bother me. I was almost bothered by how much it didn't bother me. Having recently experienced some serious bouts of missing a few faraway friends, I only assumed that I was being taught to let go. Maybe the anklet was never mine in the first place. Maybe I shouldn't be so attached to personal belongings. Maybe we had a good run and it's simply time to move on. Crappy, but sensible. I began the process of letting go.
As someone who very intently searches for lost objects and almost always succeeds in finding them, I find it interesting that I didn't drop everything to search frantically for what went missing. Maybe deep down I knew that I would find it. Or maybe I actually loved the ankle bracelet enough to let it go, fortified by our many years together to continue on with my life. Maybe I was feeling centered enough to shift my expectations from "this is how my life is and will be" to "now this is how my life will be, and it's different than I thought." I don't always love change. I'm open to the stuff I can manifest, but, c'mon, please don't go rearranging my shelves without asking me first! I think I learned that even though it can be sad to lose something, it's not productive to add the fear of being without something on top of the devastation of losing it.
Most importantly, though, I understand all of those "if you love something, set it free" cliches more than ever. So if your bracelet or your dog or your car or your lover isn't where you thought it might be, find gratitude for the moments when you could anticipate its whereabouts, and if you ever find yourself wearing it again, never take for granted the way it feels on your skin.