Not too long ago, the holiday season was upon us. My family, well aware of my European cycling ambitions, asked if there was anything I wanted for Christmas that I could use for my trip. I’m not sure at what point I’d thought this up, but I knew exactly what to respond. More than anything, I wanted to have a way to bring them all with me on this trip, so to speak. I wanted to carry them with me, and to feel that they were never too far away.
So I asked that they each send me a small item that represented them. This of course is an easy enough task, when left at that. But what made things a bit more of a challenge was that I requested that the items be small enough that I could carry them on a chain around my neck, much like a charm bracelet. There were no serious restrictions beyond that really, except of course that it would be preferable if the items were somewhat sturdy and water resistant because I intended to wear them whenever I was on the road. I encouraged them to be creative; it could be a traditional gold charm as much as it could be an old piece of rubber cut out of an old basketball to represent someone’s athletic side.
Once the challenge had been given, I was looking forward to seeing what would come of it. I half-expected my youngest brother to send me something like a toenail clipping… He’s got a funny sense of humour sometimes. But in the end, I was pleased to find some lovely little treasures in my mailbox, accompanied by some touching hand-written cards and letters explaining the significance of each of the pieces.
My older sister, Carolyne, who’s always had an eye for beautiful, more high-end jewellery, sent me a lovely gold charm in the shape of a sun. It was her family’s way to wish sun upon me on my travels, and representative of their love of spending time enjoying sunny days together. Ever thoughtful and considerate, she helped other members of my family choose a few other gold charms to send my way: A heart with the word ‘daughter’ written in the middle and a charm with the words ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ on behalf of my parents, who as you might have guessed can often be found gliding across the dance floor for hours at many a dance event around town. And from my brother Stefan, not a toenail clipping, but a tiny golden beer bottle opener with a simple message: ‘Cheers! Have fun and be safe, sis!’
My younger sister, Kristine, moved back to Canada this past summer after living in the same city as me in Taiwan for about six years. She’s now living in Montreal, an 8-hour drive from where the rest of my family lives in Ontario, so her contribution came in a package of its own. She sent me a thimble with a small ornamental feather creation hanging from the middle inside. She has a background in fashion and is always coming up with ways to make the world a more beautiful place with her lovely hand-crafted clothes and fashion accessories. Lately her feather earrings have been all the rage; how nice to have a way to carry a bit of her fashion flare with me on this trip!
After a second wave of inspiration for a few members of my family, a second package was sent to me long after Christmas had come and gone. This one contained five new charms which were handmade. From my mother, a gifted jewellery designer who creates some of the most beautiful beaded pieces you’ll ever see, a lovely mounted jade bead. My niece Isabelle, who enjoys doing crafts and beading alongside my mother, selected twelve of her favourite beads and strung them together into a little ring. My younger brother JD, a talented artist who is especially good at drawing heritage buildings and other architectural beauties, looped a wire through a hole he’d drilled through a small bit of a pencil, making a piece that represents his artistic abilities and interests. My youngest brother Stefan had also decided to send me a second charm. He took a bit of copper wire and shaped it into an ‘S’, a simple yet appropriate symbol of his skilled work as an electrician.
Finally, from my father, I got a nut and a cap screw, one fitting neatly into the other to make a single piece. With it he enclosed a two-page hand-written letter to explain his reasons for sending it. I realized at once as I started reading it that this was the first time I’d ever received a letter from my dad, hand-written or otherwise, which in and of itself was quite moving for me… In it he explained that after much contemplation about what defined him as an individual, he realized that more than anything, he saw himself as a Family Man. He was proud to have been married and in love with the same woman for nearly 40 years, and to have raised five “beautiful and talented human beings” with her. He’d chosen the nut and cap screw to illustrate how two components used together can accomplish so much more than they ever could if used alone… The metaphor was clear, and the sentimental value of the piece thenceforth became incalculable.
In the final days leading up to my departure for Athens, I assembled my little treasures on a stainless steel chain which now hangs from my neck. It’s a bit of a mash-up of different metals, sizes and styles, and I love it. It’s appropriately representative of my family: a mash-up of different personalities, each with a different set of qualities and faults, all of us sticking together through years of joy, growth, frustration, excitement, sadness, jubilation, anger, laughter… and love. Lots of love.
For this… all of this… I will be forever grateful.