The most pernicious thing about being robbed is that you know that the thieves immediately toss the things that are of significance to you. For example, Michael’s notebook with a year’s worth of work notes, the pictures of the magic show that were on the camera, and Farmergirl’s bracelet. As I’m writing this, Michael is on the phone with the insurance company, explaining that the things she lost weren’t of monetary value: the backpack and her clothes were used (though it was her current favourite pair of jeans), and the bracelet has a monetary value of about 14 cents.
It wasn’t even a real bracelet. It’s a scrap of cloth.
But it was her scrap of cloth, and it’s not the cloth itself, but its spiritual significance that made it valuable to her.
Two years ago, at camp, one of the projects the campers did was to make prayer flags. Farmergirl informs me that she feels she misunderstood the instructions, and that she ended up writing considerably more on her prayer flag than the others in her group. The experience of creating the prayer flag and, in particular, her counselor, helped her puzzle through some deep spiritual questions she had. This year, again at camp, she found the tattered remains of that prayer flag . . . the writing was gone, and the blue had faded. She reclaimed it, and has been wearing it, wrapped around her slender wrist, as a bracelet.
She seldom takes it off, but had removed it for the magic show she’d assisted in, because it didn’t really fit the “look” of the Vegas-magician’s-assistant in a sparkly green ball gown. It was tied to her backpack when it was stolen.
We have a family tradition of weaving stories – sometimes factual, often not – we were in a crowded mall in Beijing once, right before Christmas, and a vendor gave Farmergirl a red balloon. We were going to be back on a bus, and didn’t really have a place for the balloon, when we noticed an even smaller girl (Farmergirl was 7) looking longingly at the balloon. Farmergirl gave her the balloon, and we watched it bob through the mall. The mall was organized around a large atrium with dozens of escalators connecting the floors. Our story is this: Farmergirl gave the balloon to the first little girl, who passed it on to another, who passed it to a third, and a fourth, and so on.
When we think of that day, we see the balloon being passed from kid to kid, multiplying the happiness through the mall. When we think of that day, we see the red balloon, bobbing from floor to floor, through the throngs, spreading more happiness than its initial gift had brought.
This is our story about the prayer flag bracelet.
The thieves quickly realized Farmergirl’s back pack contained “nothing of value,” and pitched it into the Spokane river. It bobbed along, in the dark, until it reached the slow waters alongside Riverfront Park, above the Falls. On the south bank of the river, a young woman stood, sniveling in the rain, ready to jump into the icy waters of the Spokane. She knelt down to feel the water, and her hand caught the Garfield backpack. She fished it out, and untied the bracelet that Farmergirl had used to hold it shut. She held that wet scrap of cloth in her hand like a lifeline. Like Farmergirl, Garfield was her favorite cartoon character, and here he was, just as she was ready to pitch herself into the river. She tied the prayer flag around her wrist, and walked home in the rain to take a hot shower, and clean up the backpack. I told Farmergirl we probably shouldn’t tackle that girl if we run into her downtown. She had a rougher week than we did.