On January 17th of this year, I knit the last stitch into a warm, woolly scarf.
We were gathered at Mom’s place for a winter’s tea reminiscent of bygone days when Mom would gather her girls in the winter months to nibble at leftover Christmas cookies and catch up. One of my sisters, feeling nostalgic for those times of connecting, had initiated the tea and invited us to her farmhouse. However, the back roads that day were a sheet of ice, so we met at Mom’s cozy spot in the city.
As we chatted, someone noticed a white car pull into the driveway. I heard someone else say, “No! It can’t be!”. But it was! Strolling jauntily past the front window where Mom’s orchids bloom a profuse welcome, was our stateside sister – completely surprising the lot of us. After driving six and a half hours, she had navigated the icy roads to my sister’s place, only to find no one there. Calling to Mom under the guise of being part of the tea in a long distance sort of way, she subtly sorted out the change of venue and made her way to the city. As we all participated in the joy-filled arrival, someone commented that, “The old Shirley is back”.
I cast on the first stitch of that woolly, warm scarf on August 25th, 2015.
The setting, a trauma centre in the heart of St. Louis, Missouri, was much different, but the sense of family and community rallying and banding together had some of the same undertones as our post-Christmas tea. This same stateside sister was undergoing facial reconstructive surgery following a horrific car crash. Family and friends hunkered down together for what would be a ten hour surgery. The weary surgeon used words like “pulverized” and “harvest bone” when he came to give us a report. That surgery was the first of many and only the beginning of a long and arduous recovery journey that continues to this day. However, having her show up and surprise us all at our afternoon tea had a sense of old familiarity of pre-accident days. Finishing the knitting project on that same day was poignantly symbolic.
Life can unravel in a split second and the design of a life altered in the pulling of the stitches back together into some semblance of balance. While living with a sense of impending doom is counterproductive, our everyday life choices can knit a certain kind of resilience into the fabric of our souls. Our lives too are knit together, sometimes loosely, sometimes more tightly, and when the fabric of our lives is rent, the stitches of community can hold fast and provide a safe place to land. My sister and her family were at the epicentre of this rending after the accident. We, their family and close friends, knit ourselves into a layer of presence around them.
During one of those early “hospital-life-takes-on-a-time-of-its-own” weeks, we walked to a nearby coffee shop and sprawled, with our drinks, on a small patch of green grass in the warm autumn air, finding a brief respite from concrete and tile. A friend of my sister’s, trained in social work, described to us this idea of how layers of support work together in a crisis, emphasizing the importance of turning to the layer behind you for your own support as you support the layer in front of you. Seeing my sister in this broken place while, at the same time back home a dear and close friend of ours was having his life sucked away by illness, had me feeling very frayed. I remember the sense of support I felt when some friends who were not connected to either circle in crisis but were connected to me, offered their assurance of thought and prayer. Someone had my back.
They say that at some point in our lives, we’ll all have our turn at the center of that support system. Could having a sense of mindfulness and thoughtfulness in the work and patterning of our ordinary, everyday living create a sense of give or elasticity in our selves, a dynamic that allows movement even when the yarn is tangled? As we “tend to our own knitting” (Romans 14:13 The Message), purling in compassion, inclusivity, and kindness to the design of our own life, might we also look up and outward to the people in the stories that need us to have their backs? Can we be not only the people that help people, but also the people that help the people that help the people?
My frayed edges were drawn up and held by good people – no fixing, no platitudes, just simple presence. I was then enabled to turn, be present, and hold space for my sister far away and our friend here at home. Often we feel helpless – casseroles abound and there’s little else that can be done. But maybe, even layers removed from the epicentre of a crisis, there is a place and a space where we can lean in and bring a ‘holding up’, even from afar.
(A painting (5X7, Oil on linen panel) done by my sister, Shirley Miller, entitled “The Lowly Egg”. Used with permission.)
The lowly egg is broken open and now lays vulnerable and exposed on the plate without its protective shell. There is a mystical beauty in how the egg’s brokenness not only seems part of, but in some way compliments, its wholeness. Let’s be a people who journey around and alongside, gathering all the brokenness of the whole, giving an arm to lean on, not only to the broken, but also to supporting layers of the broken. As we knit the fragments of our stories together, let’s stitch the life-giving stands of care and kindness in with the shadowy fibres that are ‘not-understandable’ and bring breathing room to the hard-to-fit places.