We spent the weekend visiting our son in Eugene, Oregon, who had invited us to get a glimpse of his college life and spend time with him and his friends. Although I am not a jewelry person, on a whim I put a bracelet on before we left for the airport.
The only other jewelry I wear are my wedding and engagement rings, and a necklace that was a college graduation gift from my grandparents, a simple gold chain with a heart. I did not wear it much when it was first given to me; it was too “little girly” and too showy at the same time. But years later, I wore it at our wedding, which was one day after my grandparents’ 61st anniversary. Their heart over my heart felt just right for that day, then back into the jewelry box.
But eighteen years later, when my grandmother was diagnosed with a tumor in her jaw, I put the necklace back on. It was a reflex, like it could protect me from the coming loss as I began to understand that soon she would not be at the other end of my phone call or sitting on her sofa when I entered her apartment. I kept it on after she died and have worn it almost every day these three and a half years later. When I do take it off, it goes in a particular place of safekeeping.
My grandmother, Lilli, kept a few guardian angel pins in a little wooden box on her coffee table. They had been gifts from my aunt, a nod to Lilli’s oft-proclaimed belief that she had a guardian angel watching over her, who made sure everything always worked out. She did not wear these pins, but to me they represented her magic, a reminder of her world view. After she died, I asked if I could keep them, and they stayed together in their box on a table in my house.
I decided to pin one to my sweater when I accompanied my sister, mom and niece to help my niece move into her dorm room for her first year of college in St. Louis a few years ago. It was an emotional and busy weekend, and when it was time to leave, I put on the sweater with the guardian angel, but it was not there. Had it fallen off? I looked for it everywhere. In every drawer, behind and under the furniture until there was no more time to look. We had a plane to catch. I asked the staff if they would be on the lookout for it. I left my phone number with the hotel management but knew that I would not get a call.
As we pulled away in the taxi for the St. Louis airport, I berated myself for my carelessness. But soon I felt a sudden shift, as if my own guardian angel had whispered to me, and I realized that I was leaving behind a totem to watch over my niece, as if it had hidden itself from me on purpose.
Guardian angels cannot be seen or touched. They cannot be pinned to cloth or kept in a box. They are a belief system. A choice to assign meaning to luck. A way of feeling less alone, less vulnerable.
Yesterday, an hour into our flight home from Eugene, having spent some meaningful time with our son and seeing his world, I realized that my wrist was naked. The bracelet I had put on at the last minute had gotten tight in the night. I would call the hotel when we got home, but in my heart I said goodbye to that delicate chain. The things that count are not things.
And maybe that little bracelet is another piece of me left behind, a totem of love that charges the northwest air just enough to send sustenance to my son when he needs a vibration of home, something he cannot touch but might sense.
(Or maybe, someone will find it and at least put my absent-mindedness to good use. May they wear it in good health.)