Last January, I ordered a new knitting bag and printed on the bag was Elizabeth Zimmerman’s famous quote: “Knit On, with confidence and hope, through all crises.” I thought of the bag and the Elizabeth Zimmerman quote as a tribute to the hard times when I just knit on.
Sitting next to my mother during long hospital days in which nothing good happened, I knit away on a baby layette for my mother’s first grandchild, my first niece. If I kept knitting, maybe my mother would hang on, stay alive. It was a deal I prayed to strike with whomever was in charge. But no deal was ever made. My mother died a few days after the baby was born and I’d finished the layette.
Years later, my husband and I sat quietly in a room bursting with emotion and desperate hopes. The Cardiac Care waiting room. Our middle daughter, Flory, was having an oblation -- a correction to stop her heart from short circuiting. Knit on. Socks, six ply, size three needles, 48 stitches.
I had turned the heel and was starting the gusset when the double glass doors opened. A new born, tiny on the hospital cart, was wheeled in, parents trailing behind. As I neared the toe decreases, the cardiologist brought us the news: Flory’s extra piece of heart muscle was oblated; she was cured. I put my knitting back in my bag, ready for the long night I would spend in the parents’ waiting room, keeping watch.
I hadn’t expected to knit again in hospitals. I was cooking when it happened. Passover was the following evening. The clock on the stove made me aware that my youngest daughter was late. She was riding her new bike home from school.
I walked outside to see if she was coming down the street. Maybe the chain had fallen off or she had stopped to pet some dogs. A white SUV pulled up. The driver rolled down the window and shouted to me.
“Get in the car,” she said. “Your daughter has had an accident.”
“I’ll take my car,” I told her. I was thinking that I’d need my car and purse and health card. I’d grab my knitting, too. I was bound to be waiting in a doctor’s office for stitches.
The woman told me to forget my car; the ambulance was on the way.
I was wrong when I thought that there was nothing more painful than watching my mother die or waiting for the cardiologist to tell us that our daughter was going to be ok. Taking Lelia to the burn unit, helping the nurse bath and clean her large abrasions, caring for her through restorative dental work and oral surgery, and staying strong while she endured all kinds of necessary but painful procedures was larger than a layette or a sock. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t sure if I could knit on.
We had just returned from the burn unit and the dentist. It had been a long and painful day. Our friend and neighbor, Genie, stopped by. We sat in the family room and chatted and watched Lelia slowly fall asleep in the big BarcaLounger, the only place she was comfortable.
Genie told me she was grieving, too. Her best friend had cancer and was having a bone marrow transplant. As Genie spoke, I thought about the healing shawls I read about in a LION BRAND catalog.
I could knit her friend one.
I wanted to knit her one.
I "had" to knit her one.
And so I did with confidence and a shaky sense of hope, I knit her a healing shawl and two chemo caps.
I couldn’t stop with just one healing shawl. Not with so much pain in the world.
Not with so much pain in my own heart.
And so I knitted a shawl for a friend whose beloved dog had just died. A shawl for a friend who introduced me to my beloved. A shawl for a friend whose mother was entering a nursing home.
A shawl for my fragile daughter who braved pain and injury and was now recovering with a speed known only to children.
The healing shawl I knit for Genie’s friend helped keep her warm during her last days. I was told she reached for it often. I felt lighter inside the heavy part of my heart to know that something I made gave such comfort.
Knitting for me has never been just about celebrity scarves, luxury yarns, and funky socks. Now, more than ever before, knitting for me is about healing and helping others.