For reasons I’m not yet able to fathom (but might very well by the end of this blog) I have been seeing a lot of facebook status posts about knitting. I used to knit years ago, and progressed so far as to knit the front and most of the back of a beautiful wool fisherman’s cableknit sweater. That is, until I realized that I really didn’t like the bulk of cable-style sweaters, nor the attention it requires to follow a pattern. I’m a plain knit and purl kinda girl.
Although I took the sweater apart a few years ago (more than 10 years after I started it), I still have the wool and my fingers are wanting to feel the cool steel of the needles, the fuzzy softness of the wool, and to hear that lovely clacking sound as I lose myself in the process. Perhaps I’ll knit scarves for people who need them, or even socks (something I’ve never tried before).
For me, knitting and purling provide a way to quiet my mind through rhythm and repetition that is similar to repeating a mantra through prayer beads, or saying the rosary; the act of knittingleads me to a meditative state. Perhaps that is what is so attractive about it at this moment: I want to go deeper within myself, but need some tools to help me quiet my monkey mind.
I learned how to knit while in the hospital when I was about 11 years old. It was just before Halloween, and since I had missed trick or treating the year before due to the mumps, I was very excited for it. But as Halloween approached, a lump started to appear on the right side. It turned out that it wasn’t the mumps, but an infection in my lymph nodes. In those days, doctor visits were something you called for in the morning, and got in the same day, doctors took time in their appointments, and sent you to the hospital for long stays.
I mean long… I was there for 5 weeks, and spent about 3-1/2 of those weeks in isolation. Not only did my Halloween consist of one tiny bag with a marshmallow chocolate, a sucker and a few witches’ teeth (candy corn), within a few days I was in surgery to open up the infection to allow it to drain. Not fun.
After the surgery, I was in isolation because the wound had to be left open. The isolation unit was in the basement of the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, BC. There was a window, but its view was of an outdoor parking lot, so all I saw were a lot of legs. It was grey and dismal as winters are in that part of BC, so it was a depressing time, to say the least. I had a television in my room that only played CBC and CTV, which meant as an 11-year-old, I suffered the indignity of watching Friendly Giant, Chez Helene, and Sesame Street every morning. My only perceived break from the monotony was in the kind nurses who cared for me, and family visitors who came when they could.
My favourite part of the day was when my mother came to visit me. She came every single day and I had her all to myself. She taught me the basics of knitting. She cast-on a bunch of stitches and then showed me how to slip my needle into a stitch, wrap the wool around, pull it through, and transfer it to the other needle to complete the stitch for the next row. It was incredibly challenging for my fingers and my brain to accommodate this new skill. Every day I would do a few rows until the stitches became so tight that it was impossible to go on. And every day my mother patiently (a woman not known for her patience) stitched a few rows to loosen them again. I loved watching her knit; she was fast and able to knit fluidly because she turned the bottoms of the needles up and out like a "V" rather than down and out like an "A". She never had to let go of the needle (like I did) to wrap the wool around after she had picked up a stitch.
Knitting fed my hungry brain for a time each day until once again the stitches became too tight and I had to wait for my mom to make it better.
Until one day when she didn’t come at her usual time of early afternoon. I was getting worried that she had forgotten about me, and feeling extreme hurt and sadness. I started to cry and took a tissue to dry my eyes. And then I got mad. I began to tear off tiny bits of the tissue, rolling them into balls and throwing them onto the floor. Eventually I realized that the nurse would come in and see what I had done, so I got off the bed and was picking up the pieces from the cold marble floor when I heard the clacking of my mother’s kitten heels hurrying down the hall. I quickly threw the tissue bits in the trash and jumped back into bed.
I don’t know who was feeling guiltier, my mother for being late and having me sob with relief as I threw myself in her arms, or me for having doubted that she would come to me like she had every other day since I had been in the hospital. I think we were both surprised at our relief that we were finally together again.
As much as my mother and I had a sometimes-tumultuous relationship, I look back now on my childhood and feel her deeply loving acts of service. Even though she wasn’t often able to show her love for me in the way that I needed to receive it, she did that day as she held me as I cried for a moment or two before I was able to compose myself and remind myself I wasn't a little girl anymore.
I think it is time to take the wool and my needles from the trunk my mother used to bring her possessions from Ontario to BC so she could start her life, and once again familiarize myself with the contemplative nature of knitting. I taught myself to knit fluidly as she did when I was doing that cable sweater.
And now I see the tie-in…
This weekend I am coming up to the trial run of my very first ever writing workshop. If someone would have said to me two years ago that I would be standing up in front of people and helping them unlock their stories I would have said she was crazy, and yet here I am beginning a new journey.
I think I understand now how knitting and the stories of our lives are connected. I want my workshop to help those who are having difficulty unraveling the stories of their lives, to have access to a method I’ve learned that connects my heart to my brain to my pen. I want to help them to listen and allow the memories to flow fluidly on the page, just as this memory of my mom and knitting came to me while I was doing my writing practice.
But mostly, I want people to allow their hearts to show their adult brains that sometimes acts of service are acts of love.