Thursday, June 01, 2006

Knitting Lace

I hang up the phone. My father has just told me he has cancer.

The biopsy shows that his large tumor is malignant and has spread to the nearby lymph nodes. He is scheduled for surgery and is now packing his bag for the hospital.

As in all crises, I wind yarn into a ball and plan to cast on.

I choose a circular lace shawl, Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Pi Shawl as presented in Nancy Thomas’s Shawls and Scarves. Knit in the round, it grows based on the mathematical truth that as the radius doubles, the circumference also doubles. My professor father would approve of this kind of cross-disciplinary play with ideas.

This knitting needs to be something that will require all my concentration, that will not let my mind go to the places where it wants to go. This needs to be a project that cannot be finished quickly. I need it to last me through what is to come. Superstitiously, as I think of Penelope’s task, I try to hold off what increasingly seems inevitable.

I've never knit real lace before, but I know that my great-grandmother made beautiful lace. I was named for her and have always felt close to her despite the fact that she died many years before I was born. Thinking of her crocheted lace placemats on my parents’ dining-room table brings back Thanksgivings full of cousins, my grandmothers, and the spirits of relatives long gone who remained alive through the stories told over the meal. My great-grandmother’s placemats laced us to her across time. May she watch over us now.

* * *

At first, I planned to knit the shawl in charcoal grey yarn. Gray is my father's favorite color. He loves dark neutrals, preferring peaceful subtlety to anything that calls attention to itself. I inherited his attachment to all that is quiet, all that is plain or homemade, beauty that is both direct and real. That is one of our deepest connections.

As I fingered the dark wool, I imagined myself in a black dress and stockings, wrapped in the deep warm shawl and throwing autumn leaves onto his coffin.

I realized that, this time, charcoal grey is too dark.

I choose undyed yarn, pure and clean. It is yarn full of possibilities. Each strand has natural variations but nothing that does not belong. This is lace-weight merino, delicate and thin, soft and warm.

* * *

My father's surgery lasts 10 hours.

For 10 hours, I circle around and around, passing marker after marker, drifting along to the rhythm of the lace repeats.

I know that as I slip each red rubber ring, the end comes closer.

















* * *

If you pull at the yarn of knitted fabric before you've bound off, everything unravels, stitch by stitch, in order but without end. It is both fragile and strong, ready to self-destruct with a misplaced jerk but equally ready to prove its resiliency.

Knitting binds the yarn together both vertically and horizontally, with what is right next to us as well as what came before. Each stitch connects us with both the past and the present row. It also leaves an opening for the future.



Other lace posts:
1, 2, 3, 4

30 comments:

allelejean said...

Despite the sadness, this is a beautiful post. I hope your father comes out of this okay. I have had 2 grandparents survive cancer thus far, and I would not wish this on anyone. My thoughts will be with you.

Lee Ann said...

I echo the first commenter's thoughts: my grandparents both survived cancer and went on to give us all a good many more years of staying up until two in the morning torturing each other with puns...

Your instincts are good, and serve you well. Hold on and keep knitting. I'll be thinking of you.

earthchick said...

I'm sorry to hear about your dad's diagnosis and I hope the best for him. Your shawl is a tangible reminder that great beauty can come from tragedy. You are doing lovely work.

Jane said...

What a beautiful post, honoring both your father and knitting. Thank you.

laurie in maine said...

Beautiful words and wonderful handwork to soothe the soul.

Then as I scrolled back to the top to read it again I saw "socks have no thumbs" in your sidebar. ME! :) It's the first time I've ever seen ME in a sidebar and I'm honored.

Thinking best well wishes for you and your family.

Michelle said...

Sending positive thoughts to your father and family.

Inky said...

My thoughts are with your dad and you during this tough time. My mother just had surgery on her skull last night because of a car accident that was two weeks ago today. Nothing prepares you for things like this. But your lace will get you through. I have just a few moments ago packed my knitting basket to take to the hospital and added a new lace project to start and keep my hands and brain busy while we wait for the prognosis. My heart is with you.

xmasberry said...

A very beautiful post - thank you for sharing. I also love the natural wools, they have a richness in their simplicity (or a simplicity in their richness). Good thought for you and your father.

Helen said...

What a beatiful poignant post.
And what a wonderful analysis of knitting, and its connnections...and hope.

I hope your father comes through (came through?) his surgery well, and that the doc's consider it a success.

Anonymous said...

Hello from SSK Martha. I just read your post and am feeling very sad for you. I know it's a tough time; I went through it with my mother several years ago. I don't think I'm past it, yet. She taught me to knit and I often think of her while I knit peacefully. Your local knitting friends are here for you, you know, so don't hesitate to call on us.

Trillian42 said...

What an icredibly poetic way of expressing what you are going through. I will be thinking of you and your father, with hopes for a quick recovery for him.

mamma said...

What an incredibly beautiful post. My Mom had breast cancer, so my heart aches for you and what your family is going through. You are in my prayers.

An said...

this post is the most beautiful poetic description of knitting I've ever read. thank you so much for sharing it. I'll be thinking good thoughts for your father.

Mama -E said...

I am in tears... I am thinking of you and will keep you all in my thoughts....
E

beadlizard said...

I've had two primaries. It's a tough road, but being surrounded by the love of family and friends is transcendental. We live life with an intensity, relishing each moment, holding hands, laughing, gathering to watch a lovely sunset or smell a rose blossom. Yes, there is the deep undercurrent of grief and a nagging prickle of fear, but the joy of waking each morning! Life is a celebration.

Love the pi. It makes sense. Make sure your dad takes the pain meds before the pain drags at him. Stoicism gets in the way of healing. Good luck. --Sylvia

Stuntmother said...

The lines are unbroken -- this is so beautiful. I wish you and your father all the best to emerge from this well. Your spirit, strength and ability to see beauty in the rough patches shine through.

brewerburns said...

Beautiful shawl. Beautiful post. Take care of yourself.

AliceC said...

how well-written....good luck to both of you as you embark on this journey together...

Ruth said...

"Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises." (EZ)

Lovely post. I'll be thinking of you.

Leslie Shelor said...

I'll be spinning my prayers in your direction for both you and your father; lovely choice of pattern and yarn!

alliesw said...

Thanks for posting this, and for darin g to be so honest. Your words, and your knitting, are lovely. Glad your dad has you, glad you have your knitting.

Judith said...

Thank you for your beautiful words. My darling dad died peacefully from cancer 6 years ago now. It was devastating for all of us, and especially for my mum, his beloved wife of 55 years, but the gift of time and knowledge allowed him to do and say all he needed to.
May your courage and love carry you both through.
Judith in Australia

mlj1954 said...

My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family. Your post spoke from your heart. The pictures and words are poignant and will be cherished by you and us. Thank you for sharing.

Marce said...

This is so poetically written and genuine!

Nit One Perl Two said...

I am so happy I found your site. It appears we have more in common than knitting! I'll let you know when I complete the "world renound" triple lindee patern!

Jennifer said...

What a sad yet beautiful post, for such an occasion. Your shawl will always be a keepsake, reminding you of the love and prayers you have, and the full "circle" life brings us. My thoughts are with you and your family.

PuppyMomma said...

Beautiful comparison of knitting and grief. Very moving.


I knit the Pi shawl last summer, it Dale Baby Ull. I think I'm going to like yours better. Just a warning though, check the errata for the book, because there is a mistake in the pattern.

FemiKnitMafia said...

Wow. I'm sending good healing and peaceful vibes your way. The Pi is such a beautiful pattern, and I can't wait to see yours progress. It will tell us that you're coping too. Hugs.

Debby said...

What a beautiful post and tribute to your father. Mine has cancer too, so my heart is with yours, and will pray for good news for you all post-surgery. Your project is going to be lovely on so many levels.

Soulknitting said...

beautiful post. You and your family are in my prayers.

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