In and out I moved the hook through the piece, building the blanket stitch by stitch, row by row, enjoying the feel of working with natural fibers and the subtle colors, muted graying browns, tans, charcoal, beige and blue. hour after hour I built the blanket from nothing more than an idea in my head to something tangible.

The more it grew, the more apparent it became that something was off…maybe? Was it my imagination? I kept going for it wasn’t clear, and the pattern of back and forth stitches interwoven with a row here and there of slight texture was pleasing to my eye, to my hand, and the piece emerging soothing in the color and composition. But there, there at the edges. What am I seeing? A couple of nights ago I sat and counted the stitches. Sure enough, I had lost 7 stitches over the course of about 30 rows. So sometimes as I turn the ends I am missing a stitch…not always, just sometimes. I set down the work of about 20 hours in frustration. All that time! All the pain in my hands!

I knew I was going to have to rip it out, as I can’t deal with the obvious imperfection. There are enough flaws I cannot fix, the slightly uneven stitch here and there, the natural variations in the fiber, but this? This I knew I would have to fix. I knew this, yet I argued with myself over whether I could live with it, knowing I could not.

 I was avoiding the inevitable. So last night, I began the lengthy and heartbreaking task of ripping out all of that labor, all that hard work, painfully winding all of that yarn from my elbow to hand, round and round and round as I ripped, slowly and steadily, stitch by stitch. It was a bitter feeling to undo the efforts of my pain-filled hands.

It could not be done in one evening, all that undoing. I have another evening of undoing ahead of me, then I must find someone who can wind that yarn back into a ball, or perhaps I will go purchase a ball winder. I’m tempted to buy or make a nostepinne (a Norwegian shaped dowel used to hand wind a center pulled cake of yarn.)


My thoughts tend to wander down rabbit trails until, distracted by something, I take off on a deer trail, a squirrel trail, wandering until I can’t remember where I started or how to get back there.

That being the case, I’m pleased that I got all that undoing done, and all the yarn wound into cakes, ready to be reworked. This time I have come up with a solution. I mark the spot where the row turns, the stitch that needs to be the last one in the next row. Since doing that, I have reworked row upon row, losing nothing in the process. The marks surprise me almost every time, appearing to be further than I could possibly need to go.  Since it is marked, however, I am confident in slipping into that one last stitch before turning to begin a new row. I move my marker (a simple strand of contrasting yarn pulled through the stitch) and am off to work another row.

This undoing, un-stitching, and reworking is life. Sometimes we get to a place that, hard work notwithstanding, we look back and realize that we have gotten off. Our work, our relationships, our health, our doing is producing skewed results and we have to go back to where we went wrong and rework, redo. The markers of where we go off track may come as a surprise to us. To me, it came as a huge surprise to realize how judgmental, how fearful, how cowardly I was. I have to put markers in my path to stop myself. I have to mark my way with prayer. I have to regularly talk to my spiritual father for guidance, and it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I do that, I need the same reminders. It helps to look back more frequently, to review and evaluate to see if I’m getting off track. It’s easier to undo a few stitches than a few thousand. just as it’s easier to retrace one’s steps, to get one’s thoughts and habits back on track when we review regularly so the bad habits don’t have a chance to take hold. My goal both in this crocheting project and in life is to learn to recognize those points where I am often go astray. What are those things that draw me off course? Paying attention and living deliberately is where I have those markers.

I read this back to myself and understand that this is something I accomplish SOMETIMES. Other times I am completely overwhelmed by the stresses of life. Sometimes I am thrown off kilter by news out of the blue: “Come to the hospital, there’s been an accident.” Or, “I may not be able to work again.” The list could go on, you know. The seemingly endless series of unfortunate events of the last year sounds made up. I sometimes recite the events of the last year aloud as if in the saying of them I can get my mind to believe the truth of them. My mind resists. My strong, proud husband attacked and badly injured by a stranger over a parking space. In the middle of a sunny afternoon. The many surgeries of my brother-in-law beginning just three days after he came to stay with us “for a month.” The layoff, the car accident, the amputations, the endless round of hospitals, ER visits, PT, home health care, MRIs, etc. I’d like to say they culminated in this final surgery, but the culmination asserts that this is the pinnacle, after which things calm down and get back to “normal.” I no longer believe that I am qualified to determine what is the end of this. There is no end, no blissful pasture beside still waters at which all troubles cease…not in this life anyway. The peaceful pasture may still be there, but perhaps it is a place of the heart, not a place of the body and circumstances.

There are mini-pastures and still waters in the services of the church, and when there is not a service, there is still the nave, with the altar front and center, the icons of the dear Saints, Martyrs, Apostles, of the Theotokos and of our Savior, Christ Our God. This is a holy space, and I bring my troubled, anxious heart in prayer here and receive grace and comfort. There are still waters in prayer, in scripture, in the message from a friend, in the call of a bird on the wind, the gentle music of falling leaves, should I stop to take in the moment and hear the whisper.

I keep thinking about this undoing. It is a metaphor that resonates with me. How many times have I had to go and undo? I look back and cringe at the person I once was, knowing that I probably should be cringing at the person I am. I think of the vile, judgmental attitudes, of the cruel barbs that have flown off my tongue, of the cowardice and fear that plagued me. I was silent when I should have spoken, spoke when I should have been silent, manipulated rather than addressed directly, ran when I should have stood my ground. Ah, it is an ugly picture. But as well as I am able, I am going back, undoing those stitches I put in, making amends as well as I can and reworking. Hopefully what comes out of this painful process is beautiful and straight, if not perfect. To learn to do this differently, I have to study where I went wrong and very deliberately choose to do it right as I turn the corners, I have to study how to do this well, by carefully learning from those who do it well, and letting them examine with me where I am dropping a stitch.


The Deep Breath Before the Plunge


I don’t want to be in the battle of grief, but waiting on the edge of grief I can’t escape? Ah, I can’t hurry toward it, but I want to rush headlong as if I could get it over with. That’s not possible. Each breath I take now is a breath taken while my uncle is alive. After he is gone? Ah, to go on breathing in a world where he is not? I can’t stand the thought.

But here we stand, on the precipice of grief. We go on about our days, getting ready for work, feeding the dog, writing emails, saying our prayers, making the bed, watching the football game… In the back of my mind I sit, quivering, waiting for that call. Every time the phone rings, my heart lurches, my stomach drops, until I see it is not “the fam” calling. When my sister called the other day, I nervously waited through the pleasantries, “So…how are you?” My insides clenched against the coming blow, waiting for the plunge of the knife. Make it quick, I thought. She had called just to talk. I got off the phone and began breathing normally.

One day, perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, my dearest Uncle Rich will join that “great cloud of witnesses” and my grief will be profound. I’m already grieving. I’m already thinking through the last calls, the last cards, the last…everything. I wish I had known it was the last, perhaps I would have said how profoundly my life has been influenced by this man. I wish I had sat at his knee and asked him to tell me all his stories.

Because of him I look for hawks; because of him I can doggie-paddle, and I maintain that could someday save my life if ever I am in a boat that sinks, or I am caught in a rip tide. He taught me to look up, and to stay afloat, in more ways than one, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The lessons transfer.

Rich loved me enough to ask the hard questions and then listen when I answered. He asked the things others were afraid to ask. I love him for that. I love him for that huge smile of his, I love his tidiness, his precise way of doing things and his interest in people. I love that he once gave me a tennis racket. I have no depth perception, so the odds are long that I will hit a return volley, but I treasured that racket because he loves tennis and wanted to share it with me. That racket disappeared in one of the moves, but I miss it to this day. I love the hope in it, that I would be athletic. I was somewhat athletic. I did track, though I really only ever ran in practice. I ran hurdles in practice, something I still cannot believe as I am so short. I was fairly good at skiing and loved swimming, though I nearly drown in my first meet. I played volleyball, but wasn’t very good. Still…I tried. I have no coordination and my balance is somewhat off, so team sports are difficult. I loved hiking and remember backpacking fondly. But I was never going to be a tennis player.

I can’t help but think about the times spent together as I wait on the edge. Deep breaths now.