Only four hours into a month-long trip through Israel, and I am already tired of traveling in a crowd. We are rushing from the shuk (open-air market), but on the crowded Jerusalem street corner we pause to let everyone catch up. I finger a half-finished friendship bracelet. Waiting provides a perfect opportunity. Right knot. Right knot. Change strings. Left knot. Left knot. Left knot. Repeat. When I look up, everyone is present and ready to go. More importantly, I am ready to go. I am calm, and the chaos international travel brings is no longer so frustrating.
Like many people, I learned to make friendship bracelets at camp: Kalsman, a Jewish summer camp I went to for eight years, and Sealth, where I learned songs already woven into my family story. I enjoyed how my hard work turned into something beautiful when making a bracelet. Creating bracelets still pleases me as much as it did when I first learned, but now friendship bracelets carry both personal and interpersonal meanings.
Friendship bracelets spark a different creative side in me. Normally I see my creativity when solving a calculus problem, explaining a chemistry concept to a friend, writing in Spanish (“to increase” is good, but “to be better” is more specific), or solving, and then creating, an escape room. With friendship bracelets, learning new patterns is a perfect challenge, as it requires both attention to detail (the number of strings or knots) and an understanding of what the bracelet should look like. After mastering several patterns from my book, I began to make up my own as a continued challenge. In one bracelet, I attempted to outline a star. In another, I mimicked a known pattern but added symmetry. Now, when I decide I am going to make a heart-patterned bracelet, for example, I just do what looks right and trust the pattern buried in my muscle memory.
Because the patterns are ingrained in me, working on friendship bracelets soothes me. I enjoy experimenting with acoustic guitar, songwriting or organizing an entire day of dance classes for my fellow students, but when I need some time to myself, I pull out a friendship bracelet. The repetitive motions center me and provide a welcome change from ongoing chaos. Especially in new places or scenarios such as the first day of school, I have a guaranteed way to strengthen myself.
I always give friendship bracelets with intention: to my grandparents, my sister, the girl just faster than me on the swim team, a friend I grew up with. When I give someone a friendship bracelet, I am giving them a piece of myself—my time, my energy, and my focus all coalesced. With old friends or new, family or not, friendship bracelets represent a bond and the work involved in strengthening that bond. My bracelets show commitment to the connections I feel.
It took me a long time to realize it, but my friends are some of the most important parts of my life. I enjoy doing math competitions, playing card and board games, and dancing, but it is the connections I have made with other people that make all these activities so special. The bracelets I make are friendship bracelets. They are not “knotted bracelets” or just “bracelets,” but friendship bracelets. Even when I can’t be with my friends, my bracelets tie us together.
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