Thursday, June 6, 2013

'Tis the gift to be simple

I  miss my wife.
No, she hasn't run off with some rich Italian playboy, though I wouldn't really blame her if she did. Instead, she has rediscovered an old favorite from years ago.
It all started when she was looking for something to entertain her bachelor brother when he stays with us at our part-time place on the Carolina shore.  Uncle Matt's not really up for surfing, beach-biking or kayaking, so she felt like she had to look a little further afield to find something he'd like to do when he's not sitting in the sun, watching TV or talking to the neighbors who walk by on their way to and from the beach.
Finally, she found it.
Not the kind that's filled with water, but the game you play with a felt-covered table, a long stick and a bunch of balls with numbers on them. Turns out, the local senior citizens center has a couple of tables, along with a group of guys who play on a regular basis. It's a game he's always enjoyed, so she coaxed him into giving it a try. Once they got to the center and he found the poolroom, she wandered around until she walked past a room filled with ladies of a certain age, who were sitting around a long table.
"Hmmm," she thought. "That looks like fun."
Well, actually, I have no idea what she thought at the time, but I do know that she signed up for the class right then and there, then set about trying to remember how to turn colorful balls of yarn into items that are both pretty and useful. Her grandmother taught her the art years ago, but marriage, motherhood and a busy career as an elementary school teacher meant she seldom had time to even catch her breath, much less sit in one spot and knit a jolly Christmas sweater or a pair of warm socks for her deserving husband. But I guess knitting is kind of like swimming or riding a bicycle, because, before you know it, she was churning out a steady stream of simple stuff, like knitted dishrags and colorful scarves. With the help, encouragement and sometimes firm ministrations of her instructor, who is, like many of the local retirees, an ex-Marine from nearby Camp Lejuene, she began to move into a few more advanced projects, including a blanket for a niece's new baby and a warm shawl for a disabled friend.
I began to notice a subtle change in our relationship. Instead of keeping up a steady stream of chatter and gazing admiringly at my dashing good looks and fashionable wardrobe, she was often totally engrossed in the task at hand, with little to say except certain short words and phrases.
"Wait a minute, I have to finish this row."
Most of the time, she knits in the car or those other times when she finds herself sitting still for awhile.  Most of the time, I don't really mind that she's distracted, except when we're in the car and I'm counting on her to glance at a map or help me spot the next turn I'm suppose to take.
Me: Hey, weren't you going to tell me when we got to the exit for Des Moines?
She: Of course I will, I was just finishing a row. What did that last sign say?
Me: "Welcome to Ohio."
But there's something I really, truly do like about her new hobby:
The people.
I think that's what she likes, too, because there is an unmistakable sense of community that exists among the folks I like to call "those knitwits." And along with that connection comes what seems to be a universal spirit of caring, kindness and giving.
"You don't see people knitting for themselves very often," she said one day.
And she's right.
We know several groups that knit prayer shawls for folks in need of a little extra spiritual and material comfort. Another group makes and sells fancy scarves for the benefit of their Relay for Life Group.
And then there was the lady in the doctor's office.
We had taken a friend to an appointment and were waiting in the lobby when a woman a few chairs down reached into a familiar-looking bag and pulled out a half-finished shawl.
The whole community thing kicked in, and soon they were discussing their latest projects.
"It's beautiful," said my spouse as she looked at her new friend's work in progress.
"It's going to look like this when it's done," replied the lady, as she pulled out a beautifully finished prayer shawl.
"You've inspired me," said my wife. "We have a friend who is battling cancer. She could really use a shawl like that. I need to get started."
"Here," said the lady after a pause. "Give her this one."
"But, you can't... " protested my spouse.
"It's what I do," was the reply. "I pray for the person I'm knitting it for, and if I don't know who's going to get it, I just pray while I'm knitting."
As I think I've mentioned in other columns and essays, the events in my life are often accompanied by a sort of internal soundtrack that steadily whirls through my head, whether I'm happy, sad, thoughtful, confused, excited or all of the above. In this case, the tune that kept repeating in my brain was an old Shaker song called, "Simple Gifts."
"Tis the gift to be simple
'Tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
It will be in the garden of love and delight."
It seems we were in just the right place that day. And while the gift was simple, it was also freely given, made with love, and packed with good thoughts and prayers.
And that's gotta be the best kind of gift there is.

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