Thursday, August 24, 2006

Play It Forward

That's Goldisox (my husband) and our beloved Perky. It's December 1971 and he is six months out of the Air Force and determined to let his hair grow for the rest of his life. Perk is two years old and determined to do the same. We lived in the white house behind him in the tiny (and very hot) second floor apartment - Floral Park, Long Island, New York. Perky is modeling one in a series of wonderful cherry red and white sweaters my mother kept her supplied with for her whole long and very happy almost-16 years of life.

It's been a tough week. There are a few places I'd rather not go again, memories I'd like to relegate to some other-worldly dustbin but life doesn't work that way. Sometimes it seems that you're meant to learn certain things just so you can pass them on.

There isn’t much about cancer that’s good but in a strange way I have the disease to thank for one of my best friends in the world. We had known each other casually for a couple of years before she was diagnosed at the same age (29) and with a similar type and, in an instant, we were forever bonded. Everything I had gone through eight years earlier suddenly acquired new value and importance. My experiences with hospitals and doctors and fear became a lifeline for somebody else which, if you think about it, is about as good as it can get.

Yesterday I found out that a dear friend has terminal colon cancer and once again experience is turning into a lifeline for someone else. I spent much of the day opening old wounds, reading old journal entries, resurrecting my father's almost 6 year battle with the disease and trying to figure out how that Pandora's Box of fact and emotion will be able to help our friend.

People didn’t talk about cancer when I was dealing with it and so I kept it a secret from all but a few of my closest friends. I didn’t look sick. I didn’t feel sick. I was absolutely going to recover. So why shoot my mouth off when it could only come back to bite me in the butt? Back then you were written off as dead and gone if there was even a whisper that you were dealing with the disease. Happy endings were the exception and not the rule. (Ever wonder why I gravitated toward romance's requisite happy ending? Now you know.) I was hungry for the names of people who had faced the same odds and come out a winner but they were hard to come by. I was hungry for their experiences, their knowledge, and there was none to be had.

Right now knitting is all that’s holding my friend together. A box of yarn on the front doorstep can soothe your body and your soul when you feel you're about to break apart. The feel of the yarn beneath your fingers, the weight of the needles, watching the spun fiber turn into something real and tangible. If you screw up, all you have to do is rip it out and start over. The yarn will be as good as new. You'd never know anything happened.

We talk knitting in our phonecalls and emails. Endless discussions of WEBS and Elann and the pleasure of filling out humongous fantasy orders then hitting the delete button before we can get ourselves into trouble. (Nobody needs 30 skeins of super bulky acrylic the color of monkey vomit. Nobody!) We talk about Log Cabin blankets and cabling without needles and why she loves knitting lace while I’d rather put my head in the microwave.

Yesterday I needed a good dose of knitting therapy so I sent a question out to the Socknitters list about the provisional crochet cast on. I’d been playing with it for weeks now, trying every variation I could Google. Examining the stitches, knitting, unraveling, knitting again, muttering, cursing, scratching my head. I must be making some terrible mistake, I told Socknitters, because every time I unzip the waste yarn I end up with big loops and not "live" stitches at all. ("Live" stitches meaning, to me, easy-to-unravel stitches.) I can't tell you the hours I've spent trying and re-trying the provisional crochet cast on, trying to make it turn out the way I thought it should be.

Well, guess what? It was supposed to be exactly what I was getting. A large and lovely series of loops that are easily knit into. Simple as that. The wonderful members of Socknitters showered me with explanations and encouragement and for a little while there in the middle of a truly awful day, there was absolutely nothing on my mind but sticks and string.

I'm not saying knitting has magical properties. Knitting can’t make the bad stuff disappear. But sometimes it can soothe the soul on days when nothing else can.

You learn something and then you pass it on. Sometimes it's almost enough.



Anonymous Anna said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. Knitting is a blessing in hard times. ((HUGS))

7:11 AM  
Blogger Wendy said...

Knitting certainly can soothe the soul. I'm so sorry about your friend

7:32 AM  
Blogger Jamie Denton said...

Barbara - I am so very sorry to hear about your friend. {{{{HUGS}}}}

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Donna said...

I'm so sorry about your friend. Just this week we buried the wife of our pastor emeritus who succumbed after a years'-long fight with cancer. As I sat in her service I kept thinking about how very lucky I was that my own cancer was detected and treated (last year) in a time when we know so much more than we did. There is so much yet to be done to create more happily-ever-afters to the sufferers of this disease.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Holly in CT said...

I am so sorry to ehar about your dear friend. I lost my mother a year ago to lung cancer and my dear father-in-law to breast cancer in May. One of the best things I did for my mother was to make her a prayer shawl and attached a letter explaining what it meant to me to knit it for her. It was a comfort to both of us. Perhaps you can find something similar to knit for your friend.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Jean Brashear said...

Barbara, bless your heart. You know you're among friends here and much-loved. You and your friend will both be in my thoughts and prayers.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Knitting Granny said...

I'll be holding you and your friend in my heart and prayers.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Fran Baker said...

Bummer, Barbara. I'm sending good thoughts and prayers to you and to your friend.

12:31 PM  
Blogger wavybrains said...

What a beautiful testament to the power of knitting and friendship. Thinking of both of you.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Maybe the comfort of knitting in such a situation stems from exerting the power of creativity against the forces of destruction.

Your friend is very, very lucky to have a friend like you, Barbara!

Our hearts and thoughts are with both of you.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

Thank you sounds so lame but I mean it. I actually wrote that post early yesterday morning, published it to the blog, then yanked it off about a half hour later. I couldn't stand seeing it.

But writers are strange beings and God forbid the written word shouldn't find a reader to close the circle. I put it back up again and have alternated between relief and regret ever since.

Sometimes the randomness of life can set a girl to thinking . . .

Right now I'm in the last few pages of that #8@&3@&! novella from hell and mooning over a box of DK weight Gedifra sock yarn from WEBS that really really wants to be turned into a THE Wendy Generic Toe-Up pair of socks.

Who needs therapy? I've got my Addis and I'm not afraid to use 'em.

And just in case you missed it, thanks, guys.

1:01 PM  
Blogger LauraP said...

zBarbara - Very insightful, and yes, sometimes the best we can do is pass it on. So sorry to hear about your friend.

6:07 PM  

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