STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 05/09/2016

SPORKS Installation 22: Amulets

by bryan parys '04

Just before Christmas, I was walking down Boylston Street in Boston, en route to picking up some last-minute gifts. A bald monk wrapped in orange robes walked toward me, smiled, and handed me something shiny and golden, about the size of a business card. It contained the word “Amulet” on one side. I wanted to say “thank you” but somehow all I did was mouth the words before pocketing the object and sidestepping my way past him.

Before I could move on, however, I felt his arm grab my bicep, and I was taken aback by how firm the grasp was. When I looked up, his face was calm, the complete opposite of how his left arm felt on mine, and he said in what I can only refer to as a benevolently earnest whisper, “Wait.” Without thinking, I wrenched myself free from that tangle of arms and continued, head down, on my way to a store that, as it turned out, was closed.

I was afraid to look back in the monk’s direction, nervous that he’d be staring at me, so I just stood there at the door checking my watch—itself an amulet we think protects us from time—remembering only after that I don’t even own a watch. 

The grip and the monk’s face stayed with me. I could still feel the finger-shaped indentations lifting back into place on my arm, and there was something about the way he looked when he told me—not asked—to wait. I suddenly felt as if I had missed a chance at something.

Last Easter, I walked into my parents’ house, and my mom handed me a piece of paper. It was tanned and dulled by years of being folded and filed. My eyes widened: my grandfather Alfred Jay Parys’s birth certificate. Considering his son, Alfred Francis—my father—died when I was four, my relationship with my heritage, my last name, has always been one of guesses and gaps.

And while the paper listed his name the way I always knew it, there was a parenthesis next to it with the name Alfrath Porycz tucked inside. Almost 33 years of not knowing where this made-up last name of mine came from, and there it was in all of its throat-constricting Eastern European tenor. My insides were swelling with budding meaning, a sense of wires about to connect. I was quickly on my phone, googling the surname in a translation app, and in a matter of seconds, I’d confirmed the lineage as Polish. And the meaning?


That was it. Years of questions answered in one flabby pile of B’s. I quickly realized that this paper, which so directly connects me to who made me biologically possible, only offers a new way to spell mystery.

While the connection between the monk and blubber may seem tenuous, it’s indicative of my own daily search for amulets, for the objects and ideas that I so quickly imbue with a sense of transcendent importance. It could be a quote from Camus that feels inspiring but out of reach, a beached shell that leaps to the eye amongst thousands of others, or a shallow pop song from the ’90s that triggers an unnamed sense of loss. I’m in a constant process of quick to grasp, slow to let go.

Not too long ago, I let my son, Alfie, play with the golden card; we needed to occupy him while we waited in line, and it was the only thing in my wallet not vital to my personal and financial identification. But when he tried to rip it in two, I jumped, as if the loss of this inked trinket would mean something crucial to my own . . . what? Happiness? It hit me: I had made it important for no other reason than that I wanted it to be important.

The puzzle of names, histories, language, is there only as a reminder that the thrill of untangling a piece of the unknown can often make us think that we’re close to finding the rest of the pieces. You can take the amulet, but the truth is not in the object, but rather in the decision to keep walking—and perhaps even more, to let it be ripped.

Bryan Parys is the author of the memoir Wake, Sleeper (Cascade Books), and a writer and editor at Berklee College of Music. He’s no longer sure where the golden amulet is, and this feels like progress.