Crafting inner peace may involve thread, needles and fabric. My Norwegian mother often escaped to a quiet basement corner where her Singer sewing machine whirred for hours, generating professional-level garments. She sewed the wardrobes of two daughters, constructed suits for Daddy, and even volunteered to sew 100 choir robes for her beloved choir, a job that lasted twenty years.
Mom knitted complicated sweaters and prayer shawls, baby blankets and booties. In later years, shoppers at an annual bazaar sought out her scrubbies, their netting crocheted tight to rid pots of crusted infestations caused by overcooked hash or hardened coats of oil. Mom’s artistry fulfilled her when three rowdy children, social expectations or political realities may have pushed her over the brink.
I did not inherit her inclination to thread the needle in this literal fashion. I hadn’t the vision. Any artistic talent I may have developed over time was discouraged by art and home economics teachers. I could not grip paint brush nor needle with less than cramped exuberance. I colored outside the lines and my stitches bunched up at the presser foot.
Mom may have been disappointed, but she never showed it. She introduced me to six, seven and eight knitting needles, then stood aside as I navigated activities I could manage. I drew doodles and composed essays, eventually discovering I could serve others by putting words together in a meaningful way. Non-conforming doodles, though not meeting anyone’s artistic standards but my own, calmed me when stress threatened to overwhelm.
I experienced how doodling and words interact last spring, when my family lost a beloved member to cancer. I was close to the stepsister who’d lost her husband. When she asked if I would like to say something or read something at his service, I immediately went to a story she had shared about giving Michael a foot massage on Maundy Thursday at 4:00 AM. The compassion she exhibited, the love they shared in this moment was unforgettable to me. I asked if it would be okay for me to write a poem about this and she said, “I trust you.”
Then, panic set in. This was a huge ask. I did not wish to let her down. I knew what I wanted to say, but could I synthesize it into a poem meaningful for those attending the gathering? I had one month.
I convinced myself that I had no understanding of how to write poetry-- or even what a poem was. I decided to find a published poem expressing the grace she had experienced in the last moments of Michael’s life. But no poem expressed what I wished to say.
Day after day, I doodled the complexities facing me. Day after day, I researched poems on death, dying, the effect death had on those left behind. I took a course on poetry through Coursera and played with the assignments, composing unsatisfactory rhyme and rhythm, increasing my awareness of what a poem was and what a poem was not. I ran edited poems by my brother, by a friend who also dabbled in writing, by my proprioceptive writing group.
I had never published nor had I written poetry for anyone but myself. I tried and edited new versions day after day after day. Soon, doodle and poem took shape, felt almost three dimensional.
The love these two had shared was beyond what I witness in most couples. I processed the grace my stepsister experienced in the last moments before her husband stopped breathing. Should I mention he was black and she was white? Should I explain the significance of Maundy Thursday? Was this poem too personal to share with a congregation?
Doodle, doodle, doodle: I finally penned a communication that felt right. And I read it. And I experienced inner peace. Not in a manner Mom might have accomplished. My poem didn’t warm bodies like an afghan would. But I did warm hearts. That was enough.
Cut back long hope to a cancered
coma bed at 4am. The beloved
prepares for his departure,
breath ragged, body still. Does he
remain present to her? She could cry
in anguish; no one would think less
of her. Instead, she reaches toward
his foot. Would you like a massage?
even in this moment, considering him.
The ask is so simple, so sweet.
His head is halfway to heaven and yet
he makes his orientation known to her.
He slides his sole across crisp sheets
To meet her hands, halfway.
Stars fill the dark room with unreachable
light as two connect in one space outside
toxicity, outside time. She caresses
his bit of earth: thick pads, swelling toes,
his- their journey lines. Years of wedded
give and take expand inside this
quiet, methodical circulation of love.
She motivates him; he motivates her.
He balances her; she balances him.
Together, they cherish this interlude;
this harmonious exchange, sole to soul.
A grace-filled, sacred moment that will
energize her ever open and abundant heart
when, so blessed, she lets him go.