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Dude! Are you wearing bracelets?

Kinda.  They are Bajan bangles and they remind me of a country and a people that I will love forever and that have inspired and shaped me from a very young age.

Wrist with silver bangles

In 1966 the nation of Barbados was born as it peacfully established it’s independence from England.  My parents, still child-free, thought it an adventurous gamble to vacation in this brand new island nation.  It was love at first sight and we would spend all but a couple of summers there over the next 20+ years.  We got to know the place like no tourist could, every nook and cranny of its mere 166 square miles, it’s wonderful people and vibrant culture, history and folklore, often spending a month or two there at a time.  Each year reconnecting with the people we got to know and love, from beach peddlers to government officials, authors and artists,  shop keepers and our favorite restauranteurs.  Barbados became a second home of sorts, more of a constant than the homes and countries we lived in the rest of the year over that same period of my life.

Bangles are a beautiful reminder of an ugly past.   As they gently jangle on a wrist they are a reminder of the shackles that bound the slaves working the sugar cane plantations for their British masters.   But Barbados is a place of joy and optimism, courage and empowerment.  Instead of rusty steel, bangles are silver.  Instead of one on each arm, two are worn on one.  Bangles are a celebration of freedom as they represent open handcuffs that not longer bind a free people.

I proudly wore my first bangles home but the innocence of a 2nd grader did not anticipate the ridicule he would face from his peers.  Luckily at that age attention spans were short but that wouldn’t be the case much longer.  My first of many moves to come, saw me face off anew as I entered 3rd grade in a new country and a new school.

Raf towered over me and my peers and was the well established king of the playground and fearsome bully.  He had coined a phrase he would use to incite regular group chants to torment me about my bangles.

When I was tempted to take off my bangles after months of ridicule, my father taught me a critical and formative life lesson.  “If something is important to you, ignore what others think, take a stance and persevere.”

Things came to a head between Raf I one day when we each each lead opposing teams in a capture the flag-like game.   An unrelated argument quickly shifted to me and my girly bangles.  A scene ensued not very different from the “Farkus Affair” in “A Christmas Story”, me playing the role of Ralphie.  When all was said and done I had taken my stance, Raf was dethroned as bully, and no one made fun of my bangles again.  Until…I changed school in 5th grade, and again in 6th grade and many more times to come.

Each time I faced it I became more determined and stronger and with each victory more self-confident.   Drawing on those experiences I have become an individualist in many ways and have become unwavering when it comes to integrity.  My bangles became a part of my identify, shaped me and gave me an experience to draw on for the rest of my life.

I wore them until my early 20s.  I was a software programming desk jockey now and in this new season of life at a keyboard, they just weren’t practical anymore.

A few weeks ago my wife found my bangles tucked away with some memorabilia.  I put them on. “Maybe just for the weekend”, I thought.  But I haven’t taken them off yet and I am not sure I will.  20 years of life has a way of  dinging your armor.   While my past pales in comparison,  just like the Bajans, I can use a reminder of my freedom to refuel  my joy and optimism, courage and empowerment.

What nuggets from your life’s journey do you have that still spur you on each day?

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