Mending, One Stitch At A Time

2020 was a year of losses. A much needed and highly anticipated trip to Cape Cod and Boston was cancelled. My long-awaited college commencement was postponed until May 2021, and is still not set in stone as the pandemic continues to rage unabated. I started the first semester of my master’s program while trying to juggle being a full-time student, a part-time office manager, and run the household during a pandemic which has eliminated nearly all of my favorite downtime activities. Remember movies? I miss the movie theater with the cushy chairs and overpriced snacks. I long for a good night out at the pub with the girls for a good steak and better bourbon. And most of all church. What I wouldn’t give to spend a Sunday morning in my parish for worship and coffee hour with all my lovely church friends. I miss our monthly craft circle spent chatting and working in the sanctuary.

But there were other, far bigger losses too. By the time the year was over, I had lost an older sister and two of my dearest friends in April, May, and then October. It felt like no sooner had I found my footing then I got knocked down again. The last one broke me. I found myself existing in survival mode, getting through each day in manageable blocks of time. If I just make it through the work day, through my reading for class, through making dinner, through this three-hour Zoom class, then I could go to bed. And get up the next day and do it again. I spent the last few months of 2020 feeling stretched and disconnected. I was not whole but a messy pile of parts that were somehow loosely related to each other. My body was in one space, my mind was over there, and my soul was way over yonder somewhere. Something had to give.

I managed to book myself a nine-day private, silent retreat at Ender’s Island in Mystic. I brought my needlework with me. I hadn’t touched it since October. I’d put it down to pick up a call from Roy, only to have his sister calling me from his phone to say she’d found him not breathing. For the next few hours, as I waited for word from the hospital, I stitched and I prayed. After he died, I couldn’t look at that half-finished yellow rose without crying. As I ran my hand over the rows of tiny stitches, over those 800 tiny little prayers, I could still feel his chest rising under the force of the ventilator that was keeping him alive. To pick it up again meant facing life without him and I wasn’t so sure I was ready to do that.

My private retreat ended up being exactly that. I was the only retreatant on the island. It was an unexpected pleasure to have the large dining room all to myself for meals. Other than staff, the retreat house was deserted. I spent the cold January mornings sitting by the water with my tea, with the sun on my face. I watched the gulls playing in the wind and the ducks paddling idly by. I watched a Norther Harrier hunting along the rocks then turning to glide inches above the ground and finally swooping up into a tree without ever making a sound. I spent my afternoons writing or stitching in my room. After a week, three months to the day after I answered that awful phone call, I started to work on the other half of the yellow rose. I started on the bottom edge of it, the darker side, and worked my way back towards the middle. Little by little, I filled in the empty space as hundreds of new tiny little prayers, ones that I could find a way to feel whole again, reached out and merged with the older ones.

Now it is nearly time to head home again. Back to crush of everyday activities and new classes on the horizon. It will take a lot longer than nine days to heal the heartaches of the past year. But taking the time to let my body, mind, and soul come back together to occupy the same space again is a step in the right direction. I will miss the wind moaning through the trees and the waves crashing outside my windows at night. They have proven to be a very soothing lullaby these last few days and they too have become a part of these roses I am stitching, one tiny prayer at a time. I hope now as I run hands across the stitches, I can feel the comfort that I’ve found here too.

The Hard-to-See Stitches

I spent the past week alone on Cape Cod as I’ve done every year for the past several years. Long before I left, I had reached the point of burnout and I suppose it was that feeling of having way too much coming at me that prompted me to start up a needlework project in early February. Starting something that I know will easily take me months to finish seemed a little crazy but at the same time pulling a needle through fabric has long been a way for me to find order and calm when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the chaos around me.

As I prepared to leave for the Cape, I made the decision that I would not take any homework or school reading with me. I brought my bible, my journal, a novel and my needlework. I also brought my little Peter Rabbit and that Tale of Peter Rabbit and the Tale of Benjamin Bunny with me. I also made a promise to myself that I would listen to what I was feeling. I would rest when I was tired instead of trying to push myself to go see everything I possibly could in the time I had on the Cape. I knew I desperately needed some downtime, both mentally and physically.

img_6822Much to my delight, the townhouse I had for the week faced due east. I could sit by the sliding glass doors in the early morning sunlight and it was warm enough most days to open the doors in the morning and listen to the flock of blackbirds who lived in the marsh grasses. I spent several hours every morning working on my needlework, using the abundance of natural light to work on the lighter, harder-to-see colors and saving the darker colors for the evenings. By the third morning, I sat down to stitch and needed to work in nearly 100 white stitches, which barely even showed up against the pale ivory fabric. Given that these were the edge stitches between a pale yellow sunbeam and a bit of blank fabric, I pondered whether or not they were really necessary. They were very hard to see and seemed to serve little purpose. But after working over 1200 stitches over the course of the week, I noticed those 100 barely-there hard-to-see white stitches added texture and light in the larger scheme of things.

Sunday afternoon, as I sat by the ocean on a hidden gem of a beach, it occurred to me that maybe the time I spent every morning in my favorite pink hedgehog pajamas, sitting with my feet up, soaking up sunshine and birdsong whilst sipping my tea was just as important as the time I spent doing anything else. What might be considered wasted time actually added texture and light to the rest of life. And those four or five hours a day spent quietly pulling thread through fabric was time spent with mind and body at rest, time when prayer didn’t involve me reminding God of all the things in life that needed fixing. Instead, it was time simply spent in God’s presence. It was precisely that kind of time that I desperately needed.

img_6777Maybe that was what Peter Rabbit showed up to teach me. He sat in the chair opposite me the entire week and was rather pleasant company. I┬áre-read those old stories every night and remembered when life wasn’t so complicated. And by the end of the week, I had realized that maybe it was okay once in awhile to flop down on the sand and rest or to go to bed early with a cup of tea when my own misadventures have me feeling worn out. Peter’s mother wondered what he’d be up to, but she didn’t get upset with him for losing his coat or his shoes. Instead, she took care of him. God certainly wasn’t upset with me for showing up worn out. Instead, God drew closer to me and cared for me as I rested in God’s presence.

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Work in Progress