The October sun is shining on my mother’s hands as she sits by the window, a ball of mulberry-colored yarn in the basket beside her, and a half-finished sock in her lap. Her hands move quickly through motions memorized by years of practice, and the sock slowly grows, row by row.
I look down now, at the work in my own lap. A ball of olive-green yarn is balanced on my knees, and a lace scarf runs from my hands to the floor. I’ve been working on it for a long time now; I only have a few rows left before it will be done.
My knitting basket is beside me, full of yarns waiting to be knitted into various things. Some of them have patterns already waiting for them. But then there are yarns whose destinies I have not yet decided. Two balls in particular catch my attention: identical skeins of soft cotton, the color of freshly plowed earth. With the exception of their color, the brown yarn is exactly the same as the green yarn I am using now.
What will I do with it? What pattern, what garment, is this yarn best suited for? Mentally I leaf through my pattern books, visualizing an assortment of shawls, scarves, sweaters, socks, and gloves, and trying to imagine my brown cotton as each of them. An image forms in my mind – a long-sleeved blouse, trimmed at the cuffs and waist with a lace border. But wait … I own no such pattern. I try my very best to come up with another pattern for the brown yarn, but the image of the blouse just keeps appearing. Maybe I could design my own pattern. Surely it can’t be too complicated.
I look back down at my green scarf; I’m very nearly finished now. The pattern appears to be very complex, but it wasn’t. Actually it was quite simple. I study the design again: the scarf is mostly open lace, with a border at each end. The borders are quite impressive to look at, combining bars of open lace and close-work with a beautifully scalloped edge. The thread weaves in and out, even twisting around itself in places, looping through itself over and over and over until it has formed this massive web of lace.
And with all of this, it is still only a single thread. From one end of the scarf to the other, it is all but a single strand. A life that has run through literal twists and turns, guided by my hands, until it has become a work of art.
As I work my way across yet another row, twisting, wrapping, and looping the yarn, I realize that these balls of yarn are just like our lives. Like us, those balls of yarn have no idea what their destinies are, what designs they will be woven into. Some of them, like the yarn in my mother’s lap, will become socks: basic, practical, and worn every day. But then some, like the yarn resting on my knees, will be made into lace: luxurious and beautiful, but kept hidden away in storage and saved only for special occasions.
No matter what the yarns are made into, they all undergo the same things to get there. I focus for a moment on the scarf in my hands, paying close attention to every time I twist, pull, and contort the yarn. All of this in a single row – how many times have I done it through the process of knitting this scarf? But, had I not done these things, the yarn would still be only a straight thread… and what good is a straight thread to anyone? The same is true in our lives: we may get twisted and stretched, pulled on from all sides, but these are the things that build character. If our lives run straight and smooth with never a twist or a knot, we have no character… and what good are we to anyone?
Granted, there will always be those times when the yarn simply cannot take the pressure and tension, and it breaks. But rarely is it beyond repair in the hands of a skilled knitter.
Like balls of yarn, we don’t get to choose the pattern of our lives. We don’t know how many times we will be looped, knotted, and twisted. We may be knitted into a wool sock, a lace shawl, or a heavy blanket; we may be woven together with other threads to make a beautiful mosaic of color; we may find ourselves unable to handle the pressure, and break. But a broken yarn is never beyond repair in the hands of a skilled knitter.
I have just completed the last row of the green scarf. I bind off, tie off the last loop, and cut the thread. I gather up the scarf, run my hands over it, and hold it up so that I can see it. I ask my mother’s opinion. “It is beautiful,” she says, “Well done.” She then shows me the sock she has just finished. It is a rich mulberry color, and its soft warmth makes me think of how warm and comforting it will be in the cold winter days that are so rapidly approaching. For a few moments we sit, admiring each other’s work, the sock and the lace. Both are beautiful.
And I can only hope and pray that one day, when I am twisted and knotted for the last time, when I am tied off and the thread of my life is cut, I will be something beautiful too.