Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Knitter's Guide to the Universe
(a reflection on encouragement)

When people ask me why I knit, the answer comes easily.  I tell them about the people who encouraged me at the beginning: friends who encouraged me to branch out and try it, and then kept encouraging me to keep it up, not give up.  When people ask me why I knit, I tell them that the knitting community encourages like no other.  I tell them that if evangelists of other disciplines could learn to encourage one another like knitters, the world as we know it would soon not be as we know it.  I tell them that I mean that in a good way.

Last night, knitting as I spoke with friends around a circular table, I remembered my early encouragers.  The knitting was coming easily.  Goodness knows, though, that knitting has not always been easy for me.   My first weeks back in November were marked by wild swings between elation and frustration.  I required so much help.  My hands were unsteady.  Many were the nights that the discovery of a previously undiscovered error put a halt on all progress.  Sometimes for weeks.  As in all of life, knitting without mistakes is easy; navigating through mistakes is much, much harder.  As in all of life, knitting without mistakes is a pleasant fantasy; knitting through mistakes is true.

In the early days, I would pull out whole rows and hopelessly attempt to realign the thread on the needle.  In a reflection posted elsewhere, I observed that forgiveness is not unlike learning to undo a single stitch, I think.  It beats the hell out of tearing up the whole thing.  Been there, done that, might have given up hope.  Almost certainly would have.  Without encouragers.

All of which brings me back to last night.  I was knitting in mixed company at a church gathering.  One parishioner especially had been keen to check my progress from the week before.  Thankfully, I had made lots of progress.  And, as I'm knitting, and smiling, and talking, I notice a botched stitch coming at me on the needle.  The kind of botch that previously would have either paralyzed or enraged me.  The kind of botch that might have been my defeat.  My eyes got big.  I might ask for help, but I could not afford a melt down here; there could be no acquiescence to discouragement.  But what could I do, in the context of the conversation, save put the needles down?

I looked at the looming botched stitch one more time.  As I continued to listen and speak, I recognized the flaw as a simple split of the doubled yarn which could be resolved moving forward, not backward.  Not undoing, if I was right.  But was I right?

I decided to believe that I was.

Two rows later, I sighed a sigh of relief.  All was well on the stockinette front.

Later that night, I got to thinking about the slow work of good habits, new skills, the closing of recognition gaps, and the translation of experience into embodied knowledge.

New skills are so daunting at the outset.  The progress is so slow.  Most of the time, awareness of the degree of difficulty keeps us from beginning.  But simply beginning, just showing up, we discover that a thousand baby steps nevertheless move us forward, that we have been shaped for the good more than we ever suspected, that we are freer to enjoy that which first came as a stretch.  Indeed, if we can take steps back from time to time to mark the progress - which is in itself a lost art and discipline - we can begin to appreciate that we have an abundance of gifts to share with others.

As I shared these reflections with Rebekah last night, she observed that it's easy to discount one's own progress, that we see it most easily in others, and that others see it most easily in us.  Which brings us back to encouragers.  I hope you have some.  I hope you are one.  And I thank God for knitters.

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