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The International Writers Magazine

Reverend Father Antonio Hernández, O.M.D., A.B.F.
Founder of the Independent Order of American Buddhist Fathers


Ah, the first "Hackwriters" article of the year. How auspicious! There must be a charm I can get to commemorate this, along with the other sixty-nine articles I have published here since that fateful June of 2002. Charm, you ask? Let me explain:
My mother, may she rest in peace, collected many things. People born and raised in grinding poverty develop the habit. Mother was never superstitious in the classic or grotesque senses of the term. She was obsessive about what she collected, if it had meaning. These things were her talismans, her charms, her amulets. So, we exchanged charms and mementos often.

It always struck me as a Jewish custom to collect and exchange little amulets or charms as gifts. Seems silly to think that way now; everyone has these customs in one form or another. I came to think of my and my mother's gift exchanges as like those of the Tsar of Russia, Nicolas Romanov. The Tsar bought his mother Fabergé eggs, as his father had done before him, and he bought them for the Tsarina as well. Those eggs were the Romanov talismanic charms. The Romanovs were some of the most anti-Semitic people who ever lived and they paid for it.
Guess those Fabergé charms didn't work so well.

In my family, we had collections, we had hoarders (like my aunt, who loved rubber bands and useless cloth scraps), and my grandmother even had something like an Indian medicine bag. And I, too, hang things on my key and watch chains. Two of my most precious charms- both gifts from my mother, of course- consist of a nickel-plated Mexican police whistle and a miniature brass steamboat steering wheel. These I keep on special watch chains, which themselves are talismanic, and are attached to very special watches.

I am far from superstitious. Immune to the charm of charms, however, I am not. I inherited from my family this deep love and respect for the charm-as-talisman. At one time, we were all so poor that anything we could lay hands on became a charm or talisman. My brother had a lucky scrap of envelope. I'll never forget the charm I had as a kid: my "lucky" pen. Keys, pencils, tiny notebooks and calendars- all fair game to serve as a charm, talisman or amulet. It's as though I was raised in a giant pack of rats. Notice that I avoid the term "lucky". No one will ever sell me on a "lucky" anything. Luck does not exist.

Memories do exist. They are as real as anything can be. This why our language has the neo-Latin word "memento", which literally is the imperative, "remember!". That is the term I love the most. Perhaps the term itself is a sort of charm for me: MEMENTO. Whether it is a rabbit's foot (gross!), a game token, a marble, a scrap of cloth or a solid gold seal, the charm is the physical manifestation of the remembrance. Even the so called "pack rat" has some justification behind which to hide, while navigating piles of garbage that will never be given to the garbage collectors. Our memories do not require physical objects of sentimental value. As humans, in fact, we do not even need "sentimental value" in order to carry on our existence happily.

Buddhism teaches about coveting or strongly desiring things. The tendency is in our mitochondrial DNA, and is just a temporary "happy high" we want to achieve. Buddhism teaches that it leads to greed, which can even lead to murderous impulses. But if this tactile, talismanic sensibility is what it takes to keep the 'memento spirit' alive, I have no quarrel with it. Buddhism has some of the most wonderful charms and amulets available today.

Often I have been angered by stupidstitions. But when I handle my rosary, or reach for my watch chain that has the nickel police whistle, and open my watch, with St. George killing the dragon on the cover... when I see my mother's portrait inside the cover... well, quite frankly, it's more than charming. It's almost like a shield from evil.

Times Change
On Meanness

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