Creators and Participants | Nations


12th June 2024

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Creators and Participants

A friend of mine is without a house right now. In fact, I think she’s been that way for the duration of our relationship, although I lost track of her for a year when she moved to Ohio. I don’t think she was homeless during the winter there, though the details are hazy.

There are two important things to note about my friend. The first is her home: I tell you she doesn’t have a house not because it is her defining feature, but because it makes the fact that she has a home more remarkable. The vast majority of the time she lives in a large, hilly park. But it is also necessary to remember that she most certainly has a home. Often without any walls or roof, she creates family and belonging around her wherever she’s staying. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this.

The second thing is that she loves to crochet. I was with her once when she lost her crochet hook. If we hadn’t found it nearby, I think we would have needed to go to Michael’s immediately and get a new one.

We met in downtown San Diego when I was a junior in college and a mutual friend introduced us. At that point, I had known how to crochet for around nine years. My skills, however, were pretty limited to straight lines. If you were looking for various forms of mostly even squares or rectangles, I was your girl. My friend, however, was much more talented. Though she has taught me a lot over the years, I am especially fond of our crochet lessons.

For me, learning how to weave yarn was a tidy skill to add to my profile. For my teacher, it was about something much larger. Crocheting tied her to her past and gave her purpose in the present. I think in some ways, creating with a crochet hook helped her create her home. The care in her movements went beyond a simple craft project. When I learned from her, squinting under buzzing yellow street lamps, she invited me into her space of creation.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle writes,

“In art, either as creators or participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace.”

My friend has endured terrible things, which I know by reading between the lines of the rose colored version she gives me. Creation doesn’t necessarily mean making beautiful, easy art. The night she taught me granny squares she couldn’t help but recall her own grandmother, who taught her how to crochet. This grandmother had been one of the few stable figures in a childhood tempered by betrayal. As she bent over the yarn in her lap, intermittent tears dripped off the tip of her nose.

In truth, the part of creation where you have to remember past hurts and ongoing suffering makes you face things you’d rather forget. If I could skim by in my writing without ever touching anything painful, I’m embarrassed to say I probably would. I don’t want to see it in myself, and I certainly don’t want to deal with it in other people. Wouldn’t it be easier if creating with someone meant only seeing the nice, friendly parts that you happen to like?

Yet we are called to deal with glorious and terrible things alike. That’s part of the fall of man, I guess. Even as I write this I’m forced to come to terms with a bit of my own ugliness: often when I’m making plans to visit this friend, I want to cancel them immediately. Even though she has taught me a lot about friendship and loyalty, visiting her can cause a lot of pain as I see the toxic aftermath of her life choices. She’s had seven children, though she hasn’t been a mother to any. Every time I see her she has a new plan about how she will get herself to a place to take care of the next one. The controlling part of me wants to fix her; the apathetic part of me wants to avoid my own pain, and thus her pain, altogether. I want to watch her knit blankets and build a home in her park without having to address her unhealed wounds. But that wouldn’t be true. Neither of us could truly create without facing the fullness of our experiences.

Creating can poke at the broken pieces in us, prompting us to rearrange and shuffle them. But it can also help heal the shards we hold onto. Making art can make you vulnerable, but that can be restorative. There are a lot of rough edges around my friend, and they bring to light all the rough edges in me. She reminds me that to see other people with dignity means seeing everything, not just what I admire. That, like making something from scratch, takes time to learn.

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