Sunday, May 06, 2007

Knitting as a Spiritual Fishing Line

As often happens, I was thinking about myself as I held my knitting needles tightly, trying to find the rhythm of the piece again. I focused on the thread--a fuzzy mohair clone twining and falling obediently into place along the row. My breathing calmed, my fingers eased, and I was oblivious to the plastic-seated, crowded waiting room in the hospital in a strange town. After all, I was a long way from home and I could not expect to see anyone familiar.

I have used knitting many times before both to calm myself or to weave myself into the background fabric of an occasion. As an American married to a well known farmer, I have been subject to a great deal of observation and discussion--not unkind but curious and, when I am alone, usually from a safe distance. Knitting gives me something to do rather than sit with a social smile while I am being scanned and, hopefully, it makes me look more like a grandmother and farm wife than a Yank from "'where is it she is from?'". Sometimes it gives an opportunity to start a friendly conversation. I always welcome those because it is a genuine connection.

Knitting led me to the Tuesday night group that meets at Murkle Community Hall--just 15 miles down the road from the farm, and it led me to join up with another couple knitters with whom we founded the Northernmost Mainland SNB.

Thus, although I have great faith in the power of knitting both as restorative and social connector, I was not expecting it in the waiting room of this hospital. The first comment was from a woman across the room with close cropped white hair and a sturdy frame. Her bright face radiated good humor as she talked about the Fair Isle and Aran sweaters she used to knit. She didn't say why she stopped. The conversation moved on. Others joined in with knitting talk and comments about growing into our mothers despite our best efforts not to. There was a lot of laughing for a brand new conversation with strangers, but women are like that, especially women who knit or crossstitch or any such thing. The men became quiet. As husbands of long standing, they have learned when to give way. They must have their own special places to which they retreat when knitting and women take hold of a conversation.

People were coming and going as nurses came to shuttle people now turned into patients into whatever the business of the day was. A woman sat quietly in the corner and then without my noticing came up and, in the usual way, began with a ritual apology for speaking to a stranger, but "What is it you are knitting?" I explained that it was a simple shawl and then several commented on what I had missed--my circular needles. Knitters here not only use long, straight needles (called pins) but they may lodge one of them under their arm pit in a fashion developed or modified from long years when women wore belts with a little pouch in front with holes in which they could hold their needles while they walked or minded sheep or bairns or both.

And then the magic happened. Over the yarn and the needles she gave me the gift of her story. She has Hodgkins lymphoma "one of the rare ones," she says. I don't know what this means, but I think it is a code word for fatal. And then just when I think my heart will burst and the tears will come flooding out of my eyes and betray my willingness to share her story, she continues, "I am in remission, and now I have been diagnosed with breast cancer." I hope a solid smile that could say all that I felt danced across my face and into her heart but I could not find any words. Fortunately someone else in the room said something about breast cancer or knitting needles or something that had now become all jumbled into this same conversation with intimate strangers.

My Hodgkins friend set the tone for other similar stories, including one from a woman with ME who can no longer knit because her disease now dictates the limits of her activity. I promised my new found friends that I would bring needles and yarn with me next time and we would all knit. I think that old fashioned spool knitting might be something my friend in the wheelchair can do. I will try to give her back her knitting for however long we have together.

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4 Comments:

At 1:18 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

what a treasure YOU are--a gift to all those women.

 
At 8:21 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, ampiggy, thanks. The waiting room was a scarier place than I had thought. If I had had a cat to keep me company that would have helped, too, but it was not a nice place for a cat either.

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Where fibers meet mud said...

I love your blog - your stories are great - and to think I found you on the Curmudgeon page! I love to knit and truly understand how it calms you and makes you feel like more of the background than the main subject!

 
At 6:41 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Cur's blog has been a great meeting spot. He is sort of an on-line salon. I have hesitated to talk baout knitting or other my crafty things, but, actually your blog sort of convinced me it was OK.

 

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