“A good life is like a weaving.
Energy is created in the tension.
The struggle, the pull and tug are everything.”
– Joan Erickson
Sometimes, when we’ve been on the road for awhile, I feel cut adrift, slightly unmoored.
But how can I be untethered from my own life? Considering I don’t really think of myself as fixed in any one place, what could I possibly be drifting from?
I’m sure I’ve had this epiphany before, but I’ve realized, yet again, that it is the patterns I make throughout a day that hold me in the world. It is the tracks of routines and trails, like stitches on a quilt, that sews me into our little piece of the planet. These patterns are, by necessity, disrupted and abandoned while traveling.
Hence the slight feeling of being set adrift.
When I first thought about this, I immediately wanted to create a mixed-media piece to illustrate the idea. I wanted to get into my studio and create a landscape that would include stitches to denote how we embroider ourselves into a place. And of course, a big messy project, like the kind I envisioned, requires physical storage for materials and surfaces to work from. It also requires time in one spot, which means staying here; right here in Sechelt. Which leads me to feeling anchored and no longer floating.
But before I started on a big project, I needed to get back into our life here…
Today was our first real day home and, with every step I took on the trail to town, I imagined it as a stitch on an aerial-view of the landscape. I thought about how I could use different coloured threads for whether I cycled, walked, or drove. I could have bright red cross-stitched ‘X’s’ wherever I have laughed with a friend or felt loved. I could use rich brown knots for coffees imbibed and pale champagne-silks for sips of white wines on ocean-front decks.
And, of course, it would all be on a rich layer of forest greens and ocean blues…
When I was fourteen or fifteen-years old, and ever-so-certain of my mother’s ignorance in all things, Mom suggested we make a quilt together. If I remember it correctly, we planned out a sunburst pattern with colours of yellow, orange and red. I was reluctant and apathetic and as sullen as only a put-upon teen could be. I realize now she was trying so hard to find a way to reach her daughter across what had become an impossible chasm. This is a hard memory to hold.
Over my lifetime I have downsized and discarded many things. I can think of nothing in particular that I missed after getting rid of it.
But I can still feel the thick weight of all those carefully-cut-out quilt pieces. When we went through Mom’s things after she died, I found it – a plastic shopping bag stuffed full of all those brights shapes for a quilt that we never made.
I like to hope that some other mother picked up those pieces in the MCC thrift shop. Maybe that mom was successful in getting her daughter to work with her. I like to imagine them bent over that beautiful blanket, stitching together their lives with stories and memories.
I like to say I live with no regrets. I know that all these moments instruct us, not only in what we might do better next time, but also in learning how to forgive ourselves for a missed opportunity. It must also be said that I learned to forgive my mother for her part in creating that distance between us. I think now that much of my teen anger was over her endless disappointment in my unsaved soul. She always said she was simply hating the sin but still loving the sinner, but from where I sat, it simply felt like a very conditional love and that I was never quite good enough.
But these darker memories are also woven into my life. Like the Velveteen rabbit, some of these threads are still unravelling, becoming thinner and less binding. Some stitches have disappeared completely. Forgiveness for myself and for my mother have created a much softer fabric.
The only thing I can do is to keep stitching myself into place with new memories, connections and by creating art.
And isn’t this what travel does too? Part of being human is to follow paths and sacred trails of those who have gone before us. There is a humbling beauty in walking up ancient stone steps worn with deep grooves by the feet of our ancestors. There’s comfort in well-worn trails in the forest, in busy sidewalks, in finding quiet gardens to sit where countless others have sat. In this way, we tie ourselves into a world that is both chaotic and fragile. With each step that follows a previous path, for just a little while, we are safely quilted into place.
Perhaps what I miss, when I’ve been floating about in the world, is this particular little piece of the quilt that I can call my own. This blanket that currently resides in Sechelt. I’m looking forward to weaving myself back into place through hospice volunteering, writing, art, gardening, community, friends and family. A little dust settled over these patterns while I was away, but with every moment that I’m back, I’ll stitch new threads of connection until my faded quilt is brightened with fresh lines and markings from an engaged life.
After all, it is this quilt that I will ultimately wrap myself in at the end of my life.
All of us are stitching our lives together, one moment at a time. Everything we experience becomes part of who we are. My quilt now includes felted tendrils of fog from off the Newfoundland shores of Trinity. It has French knots of Cape Breton fiddling. There are multiple crimson X’s from the laughter still echoing out of the Red Shoe Pub. There are indigo circles emanating from the deep sense of community found in the ceilidh at the hall in Mabou. There is that shockingly bright turquoise from the thrill of seeing icebergs and black smacks of colour from the whack of the whale’s tail in Bay Bulls.
It takes time to sit with all of this and to allow these new colours to reveal themselves. As much as I love to be out in the world, I always yearn to have time to be back here in my little corner, where I can regroup, reflect and tuck my ever-expanding comforter around me.
And Mom…even though we never made the actual quilt, my life’s blanket has incorporated all those hopeful bursts of colour. I know now that those bright pieces were cut in the shape of love.
We were both doing our best, and what more can we ask of anyone than that?
Besides, well-worn blankets are always softer and thicker wherever they’ve been mended.