When I was in my early twenties, my dad bought me a Christmas gift that I still have — a Swiss Army knife. He almost never was the gift buyer. I doubt many young women can say their dad gifted them a knife that has been a beloved companion for 28 years. After 9/11, this compañera became a ‘threat’ and I stood several times at the security checkpoint with terror in my heart, realizing I had not left my knife at home. I resisted the new reality that I couldn’t fly with it in my purse and became an ace at locating an information desk and devising a way to mail it home. Sometimes I reluctantly put it in my carry-on and checked it if time allowed. Now they have those special hubs where you can mail stuff home for a hefty price.
Full of useful tiny tools, I have pulled out many splinters gently and cut wayward threads on pants, skirts, and shirts. Apples and cheese have felt the larger knife slice through them with precision and the little awl has poked needed holes in plastic and paper. My toothpick unwedges the green between my teeth and the regular and tiny screwdrivers loosen or tighten my screws, depending on what is needed. The nifty can opener and bottle openers have saved many an outdoor trip and even the cork screw has stepped in when the wine is ready to drink but the buyer has not come prepared. It took me a few years to realize I carried a small saw with me — more of a fascination to stare at than a tool I count on.
The toothpick and tweezers had been lost for a number of years, and I was delighted when I researched and ordered a order a packet of them online. One day the red plastic cover fell off of a side. I have glued it on a number of times but it keeps falling off. It has moved from my purse to my backpack to my keychain to my tennis bag. Writing this inspired me to give my compañera a good cleaning, oiling, and sharpening.
The term “Swiss Army knife” was coined by American soldiers after World War II due to the difficulty they had in pronouncing “Offiziersmesser”, the German name. There now exist a plethora of knife options in all sizes, colors, and price points.
What is more interesting to me beyond the knife’s longevity and usefulness is the symbolism of the knife for my father and me. The father who was driven to buy it when for countless years and countless lists he drank his café and left the decision-making and purchasing to my mother. And who was I as a young woman that a Swiss Army knife seemed like a good gift to ask for?
I was living at the Catholic Worker in East Los Angeles and working on Skid Row when I opened the gift with a surprised smile on my face. I had become intrigued at fixing things in the hospitality house and a Swiss Army knife helped tasks go more smoothly in old buildings with constant small repairs.
The knife is a tool of survival and readiness, serving as a talisman of these qualities I leaned on for many years. I live in a world that pushes me to believe I have to focus on my survival and be ready to tend to my needs when others might not. It has morphed in the present moment to be a symbol of resilience and power, like a faithful guardian angel that has my back and celebrates my constant addition of knowledge, experience, and tools to support an abundant mindset. Because of this, I created a second generation tradition by gifting my twins each a Swiss Army knife in their late teens. It was like giving them a minor super power to encourage them on their journey towards authentic resilience, constant growth, and the delight of taking care of business with the flick of a tiny tool. #52essays2017