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