It is my not-so-humble opinion that people say “what a small world,” too much in not-so-small-worldish moments. For instance, if you were raised in Montana in a ski town of 2,300 people, and you travel to Seattle and you tell someone you’re from a ski town in Montana…and they say, “Whitefish?” and you say “Yes, in fact!” and they say, “Do you know Joe Schmo” and you say, “You mean Joe Schmo of the Schmo Schmos??? I used to DATE Joe Schmo. I almost MARRIED Joe Schmo!” well then…I’m not that impressed. There are exactly two ski towns in Montana. And both populations totaled, it’s about the size of a small liberal arts college. I went to a small liberal arts college. I pretty much knew everyone. And I considered marrying a handful of them.
Now here’s a small world incident that actually does impress me. It happened this week. And it happened to me. And three other unsuspecting characters.
I was minding my own business, going about the post-holiday dig-out from emails, broken ornaments under couches, dried out cedar boughs, and stale headless gingerbread men…and a package came. It was for me. I opened the box, figuring it was a tardy gift like most of mine were this year, scanning my brain for who might have me on their list, and lo…it was a box wrapped in purple tissue. Nothing Christmasy about it. Two weeks after Christmas, and someone had sent me something. That someone is my friend Alison. My kids deemed her Alison Wonderland when they were little, innocently, but it has stuck because she is that friend that remembers every birthday, writes long heartfelt newsy notes, sends gifts to both kids even though only one is her god-child. She sends hardback books, always age-appropriate, always a Caldecott prize or something enriching. My kids love Alison Wonderland. And so do I.
This time Alison outdid herself. It was a long thin box. Jewelry. I don’t know about you, but at age forty-five, I’m beginning to get grandmother gifts. Pot Pourri. Room spray. Soap. Candles. As if I smell bad. Or my house smells bad, like maybe I’m incontinent. Jewelry is divine. So I opened it with a little lust. And there, shimmering in silver, smoothed in leather, was the coolest damn bracelet I’ve seen in a long time. It was a horseshoe with two leather straps lined in orange ribbon (my favorite color) that snaps.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the cover of my book, but if not, here’s a reminder.
It wasn’t my idea to put a horseshoe on the cover of my book, but it has grown on me. The idea of strength in hardship. The illusion of where strength lies. A steady horse suddenly without a shoe, so suddenly lame. No, our strength is inside us. That’s what I’ve learned and that’s what my book is about. And Alison Wonderland knows that I could use a little strength right now in my life. So she sent me a reminder. A talisman, if you will. I put it on, snapped it, positioned the shoe so that it is on my inner wrist, pointing up, filled with strength. And when I feel not so strong, I put my thumb in its cleavage and breathe and feel better. Beautiful gift. Beautiful friend. I called to thank her. She’d seen this jeweler’s work at a fundraiser in Hartford, Connecticut. Thought of me.
So here’s the small world part, and I’m telling you: I really think angels exist.
Two days later, I’m sitting at my desk going through my morning emails with my green tea, and I see a note from a friend of mine in Italy. I met her in Seattle years ago, not because she was a friend of a friend, not because either of us were from Seattle and had gone to school together or because we were part of some sort of work environment. I had lived in a house in a little alley in Eastlake and had moved next door. I was on my new front stoop. She was on my old front stoop. I said, “Hey, I used to live there.” She invited me over. I saw that her only furniture was a piece of plywood over two sawhorses and a computer, said, “Oh…you’re a writer. Me too,” and there began a friendship that probably has totaled less than ten hours in physical vicinity. She lives in Rome now. She writes and teaches. I live in Montana. We keep in touch via email. She’s a kind supportive open soul. The kind you carry with you as you go but that doesn’t demand much. We all need friends like that.
So…I’m always happy to get a message from her. This one read:
“Because the world is ever smaller, the other day I was chatting with my dear friend Jessica who used to live in Rome (and Montana) and she recounted to me that she had designed a horseshoe bracelet as a gift for a writer in Montana … and that she was now reading her book and wanted to get in touch with her … And then she asked if I had ever heard of the book and it’s author. Well, of course you know the answer!”
Head to toe chills. You’ve got to be kidding me! Now THAT is a small world. It turns out that her dear friend Jessica is a beautiful jeweler and lives in Providence, RI. (And is my new friend, because you don’t blow this s*** off!) I’d like to introduce her to you, because she is the perfect example of turning a dream into a reality. And when “coincidences” like this happen, far be it from me to keep them to myself. From intention to intention to intention, crossing oceans and the Rocky Mountains, a chain of thoughtfulness and deliberate living. Let us remember the power of intention and how it can unite kindred souls.
I make jewelry. This is what I tell people when they ask me what I do, but I always feel strange when I say this, as if I am not telling the complete truth.
The truth is, I am kind of making this up as I go along, and how I come to a finalized piece is much less than a master craft and much more than a product.
In my former life (I mean life before 30) I worked and studied to be a journalist in Rhode Island and then New York City. In one of those moments that are hard to recreate, I moved to Rome with a vague idea of becoming a foreign correspondent, but taught English instead.
Maybe to keep my mind off of this perceived “failure,” I began visiting the weekly Roman flea market, finding myself rustling through dirty boxes of bric-a-brac, collecting things that had no business cluttering my medieval apartment. I did this with the kind of passion you see in stamp collectors or bird watchers.
I became especially obsessed with the antique Italian prayer cards that depicted saints who met their mostly grizzly demise in the face of belief. By the time I unearthed them, they arrived tattered with intentions, scribbled with prayers left by generations of old Italian women in black.
The prayer cards and other obscure objects I found there seemed to me like beautiful slices of life that should be more than discarded formerly important things that travel from flea market to flea market. I wanted to freeze all that they mean — all those thoughts from all of those people.
Jewelry was the most obvious way and something I had always dabbled in. In a process that happened in two languages and languished in Roman pace that seemed to move backwards at times, I taught myself a version of a an ancient craft that I practice today. It has taken me back to the United States to a life I had not intended.
As a child I didn’t see myself trading a digital watch for a Masai spearhead in a Tanzanian market, but I am never more confident, honest, and tenacious than in the moments I get off the plane and eventually into an area of possible finds.
This summer I had the opportunity to add another adjective to this list.
I spent a month in Puglia, Italy in a remote one-church town called Martignano without a car unless road tripping to a market. I was left without an option but to bike from tiny town to tiny town if I wanted to see such dazzling theatre as the village priest blessing all the animals, from dogs to chickens.
It was on one of these twenty-mile bike rides that I had an overwhelming feeling of what I have come to describe as self-reliance. The impetus wasn’t just being okay with being alone; it was more like being assured that I have everything I need.
I took this wave of self-reliance with me as I scoured the markets that were full of charming old horseshoes that the locals would hang for good luck. I thought that the horseshoe would be a perfect motif for the Puglia collection, but the likelihood of finding a small version was slim.
Like most of my good finds, it was at the end of the day — just when I had given up on finding the perfect piece — that I stumbled onto a shack replete with little horseshoe charms.
Back in my studio in Rhode Island, while carving the wax I created from the horseshoe, I thought about the self-reliance that anchored me as I went where I wanted to go, did what I wanted to do, with no one watching. I gave this particular piece this “intention” in a way, in a hope, that like the pieces I find in the markets, it will contain what has come before.