I inhale the earthy, crisp scent of leather, breathing in decades of memories, images flashing like a “This is Your Life” montage from some old TV show.
Riding bareback through the rice fields on my horse, the chocolate-colored reins held loosely in my hands, I sing loudly to an audience of white cranes and brown ducks. I catch my reflection in the water and pretend I’m a fairy queen, my hair wild, riding toward some imagined kingdom created just to honor me.
Sitting in my closet, my teenage heart is broken, I’m writing down the feelings in my pink leather journal. I want to be like everyone else, but I can’t seem to even fake it. I’m doing everything wrong and nobody will ever love me. I’m destined to be alone.
I’m standing in my friend’s dusty garage while Enya softly sings from a tiny speaker, “Let me sail, let me sail. Let me crash upon your shore.” I’m frustrated at my lack of skills, as the leather in front of me doesn’t look as I want it to, but my friend playfully throws a scrap at me and fills the space with a booming laugh. I can’t help but smile.
I’m not any of those places now.
I’m not any of those versions of me now.
I’m in my own garage.
My tools lay orderly, waiting for me to begin.
I wet the leather. I pick up a square piece of metal, the letter “F,” and snap it into the handle.
I set the letter carefully in place and hit it hard, just once, with my heavy hammer.
I repeat this with each letter, feeling a connection, not only to the person I’m making the leather bracelet for, but to the letters themselves. The sound of the letter, the shape, the history of the words and to the printing press.
I snap one letter into place after another, developing a rhythm of motion.
Letters become words, and words become phrases.
Letters become words, words become phrases, and phrases can change the world.
I picture early printers, hunched in a dark room, carefully and secretly placing letters into the bed by candlelight, words designed to topple monarchies, to protest injustice and to fight against oppression. Steady hands, or are they shaking hands, place each metal letter, so similar to the ones I’m snapping on and off the handle, purposefully in place with a full awareness of the risks.
My action is so small. Stamping leather bracelets for friends hardly seems worthy of mention, let alone connected to revolutionaries who changed the world with bold ideas and brave actions.
Yet, we all have to do something. Be something.
We all have to believe little things matter because otherwise, it seems so fucking hopeless, a tiny grain of sand in the ocean being pushed by the tides, a speck of nothing in a vast expanse of universes and black holes.
Our actions matter.
Our suffering matters.
I’ve been consumed with grief, the heartbreaking loss of my tiny baby niece in August and now the end of a close friendship.
I don’t know how to deal with these things.
Sometimes I can’t.
I’ve been unable to write, each time I sit down it feels like the words swirl away from me and leave me fearful and uneasy. I take long baths. I sit silently for hours next to the river, rolling rocks in my hands, and watching birds. Yeah, it’s weird.
Stamping leather has become a way to connect with lost parts of myself and to give back to those who have touched my life. Yeah, it’s weird too.
I’m hopeful the writing will come again (I managed this blog post).
New adventures will be there too, as they always are.
There is nothing revolutionary about any of this.
We all have to reinvent ways to conquer fear, to push away grief and to move forward in life. It’s as universal as eating and breathing, yet it never feels any less suffocating or lonely.
But we aren’t alone.