I never wore a cross around my neck, despite being christened Catholic. I wore a small gold pendant whose base slid out to reveal a tiny Koran. I didn’t understand the book, but I understood the story.
My grandfather, who migrated to Argentina in the ‘30s, visited his family in the Lebanon just once, in the early ‘70s. He took with him suitcases of clothes and every gift, from handkerchiefs to shirts, we had given him every birthday and Christmas for years; he’d never used them, just put them away “for the Lebanon”. When he came back, his suitcases were empty. He only came back with the clothes he was wearing and a handful of gifts, including these pendants for his granddaughters, daughters-in-law, and wife.
Then my pendant was stolen; my symbol of love, sacrifice, and courage lost. And you know how I love me a symbol.
As we all tend to. Wedding rings, crosses, dog tags, lockets, charms… symbolic things we wear on our persons and I say that quite deliberately as opposed to saying “our bodies”, because it is definitely the person who wears something like this. When the something is worn always, or regularly, that person is saying something.
We fiddle with our rings when nervous, slide our pendants along the chain when thinking, as if they have some magic ability to help get us through this moment. Which is interesting, because the reason that dangly on your bracelet is called a charm is because it was originally meant to be a kind of wearable incantation, an amulet to protect you and keep you from evil. Not that we tend to think of charms this way now, but we still fiddle with them, and I wonder what it is that we are subconsciously trying to summon forth.
For my birthday last year I commissioned a piece from my niece: a pendant to represent Boo Radley’s tree. That was the only guideline. I left everything else to her.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout and Jem Finch fear the town’s bogeyman, Boo Radley. Never seen, he is the stuff of legend: mad and murderous. But Scout and Jem begin finding presents in a hollow knot of a tree outside the Radley house, and it is obvious the gifts are from Boo Radley to them: sticks of Wrigley’s Double Mint gum, a broken pocket watch, a spelling bee medal, a boy and girl carved out of soap. In the end, Boo Radley turns out to be not just human, but the very essence of humanity when he rescues them from a man who really is both mad and murderous. “Hey, Boo,” Scout says when she recognises him. And he smiles. The smile of a man who is, for the first time, truly seen.
At this point in the book or movie, I normally cry.
My niece turned in a pendant that was far more than I could have imagined or hoped for. She demonstrated how the back spins so I can decide whether that day I will see the soap carvings, or the gum, or the pocket watch. And she showed me the message on the back. At that point, I cried.
I wear Boo Radley’s tree almost every day now, and I find myself grasping it in my tight fist far more than I thought I ever would. There is so much to think about every day, so much to feel, particularly when each day presents you with a bunch of unknowns, and by Heaven, I have so many unknowns before me these days. As I confront long-held beliefs that I realise I must finally get rid of, as I do things I never imagined doing before, as I begin-again yet again, as I forge a new path, my heart pounds, but resting above my heart is Boo Radley’s tree.
Reminding me that the thing you fear the most can have hidden, unexpected, wondrous gifts. That the thing you fear the most can ultimately save your life.
It is a simple reminder. A simple kind of faith.
Some people wear crosses.