Monday, September 26, 2011

Intentional Joy

Ten minutes ago - a knock on my door, a flower truck in the driveway.

The note began "Welcome to the year of intentional joy."

I laughed in happy disbelief.

Uncles mine, thank you!


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Peace Be With You

If you ever came to church with me, there's a bit of the service where the Pastor says "Peace be with you," and the congregation responds, "And also with you." He continues, "And now let us share this peace of the Lord with one another." So we all rise, turn to our neighbours, smile, shake hands and say "Peace be with you."

It's a bit funny to see someone who isn't used to this prescribed greeting, and visibly feels awkward or embarrassed. They sort of glance away, maybe mumble a half-hearted "You too" in response to your smiling greeting.

Sandy came to church with me a few times - once to become my daughters' godmother - and each time she did the cutest little self-conscious giggle when she shook my hand. "And also with you!! Hee hee!"

I remember feeling this way as a young girl, the first time I went to a church where there was a "shake hands with the person next to you" moment...I hated it. I felt like no one would approach me, or if they did I wouldn't know what to say and they'd think I was weird, or stupid. So instead, I decided THEY were weird and stupid. You know - for saying "Good morning" to each other in church. Fatuous idiots.

When I started going to the church I attend now - Lutheran - it took me a couple of Sundays to figure out that there was a loosely prescribed order to the proceedings: they would say "Peace be with you!" and I was meant to say "and also with you." I wasn't sure of this, so I smiled and said "You too" for the first two or three weeks, then sat down feeling oafish. After a couple of weeks I forced myself to say the expected words. I felt silly at first, offering the greeting or the response, but before long it felt okay.

Then it felt sort of natural.

Then it felt like I meant it.

Now, after that five minutes of the service, when everyone has smiled into my eyes and said "Peace be with you!" and I have replied, fondly, "And also with you", I feel it.

I feel peace.

I have been thinking a lot about the deliberateness of emotion. When I was younger I always thought emotion led to the action - so anger led to aggression, love led to being loving, and so on. I hated that trend I started to notice in my 20s - the "love is a decision" fad. If you don't feel it, I always thought to myself, you don't feel it - and that's that.

The part I didn't understand was the transience of love. The way it comes and goes. Sometimes, as a child, let's face it: you hate your sister. I mean, really hate her. You don't love her. And it's possible, as a parent, to wish your children would go away. Really wish it. Wish they weren't your problem anymore...ever. And sometimes you stop loving your spouse because the relentlessness of marriage has stripped away the sparkle and the humour...the new car smell is gone, you've spent too long in there being tired and crabby and impatient, and now it's just endless fill-ups and washer fluid and the console is stuffed with receipts and fast-food napkins.

Twenty years in, I know a bit more about relationships. I know a bit more about myself. I understand that emotions describe a circular path, not a linear one...and that you can jump on at any point in the circle.

Loving someone doesn't have to begin with the feeling. It can begin with the action: the verb use of the word. "I love you" doesn't always mean "I feel love for you." It can mean "I promise I will stay with you" or "I'll never send you away" or "I give you what you need." It can mean "I do all of this for you, without resentment."

You can train your emotions. You can love someone - the verb - and it can, wait: it IS...Love, the noun.

Mothers intone, "Be nice!" to their toddlers. This is the earliest training we get -- our mothers are telling us "I know you don't want to act this way - you want to act another way. You want to snatch things, to hit and to dominate your playmates. But you must DO niceness even when you don't FEEL niceness."

Life is full of these decisions. It takes discipline to implement them; real self-discipline to continue practicing them. They are the basis for civility.

Do love, and you will feel love.

Be gentle, and you will become gentle.

Practice patience, and your patience will increase.

All actions require practice. The first time you did anything, it was hard. Walking. Speaking. Riding a bike. Climbing a mountain. Painting a wall. Changing a diaper. Doing yoga. It only got easier as you became familiar with the mechanics of it, and your brain and your muscles learned how to do it, and then it became second nature.

On Sunday morning I shake hands with about twenty or thirty people; the ones on my side of the church. Each of them leans towards me, offers their hand, and a genuine smile as they say with friendliness, or gentleness, or humour, or quiet firmness, or with love, "Peace be with you." And I lean towards them, return the pressure of their hands, and say with fondness, eye contact and a smile, "And also with you."

The order of greeting has become my choice, and theirs, and what we are giving is what we receive: just what we are offering each other. Peace.

Sandy has been gone for a year. I've written about the way I have grieved for her, and I've said everything I want to say about that. During the past year I explored the process of grief, and practiced and observed the rituals of sorrow.

Some people "claim" a word for a given year, and meditate or dwell on that word throughout the year. Last year my word would have been Sorrow. This year I think my word will be Joy. I'm going to practice Joy and I'm going to practice Peace. I have held Sandy, I have thanked her for being in my life, and I have let her go.

Sandy, Peace be with you. What I give to you, I also receive....peace.

And to you, my patient readers, I offer my grateful thanks. I don't think it's easy to analyse and explore death and grief as I've been doing this year, so I thank you for reading and for writing. The dialogue with you has been such a gift to me.

What you wish the world to be, you must be. What you wish your world to have, you must give it.

What you wish to feel, you must do.

So. From me, to you.

Peace be with you.

Friday, September 23, 2011

3, 2, 1, blast off.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Sandy's death. I just want to share a few short sentences from her last three posts...I was revisiting them each on the days they were written, but saved the last three for today.

I don't want to add anything else...I'll be back tomorrow to close this year out, give some final thoughts. In the meantime, I'm going to think about my friend and remember the last few days with her.

...the truth is that I don’t really know how I am. I don’t know if the chemo is working, I don’t know if the cancer is shrinking, I don’t even know most of the time how I am feeling because so much of how I’m feeling is because of chemo, or the drugs – so it’s difficult to say what part of my discomfort is because of chemo, and what part is because of cancer, and what part is because of being tired of it all, and wanting some reprieve.

Sometimes I feel that I am standing at the edge of the abyss, looking down into the river of lava at the centre of Mount Doom. It is the end of all things. My feet are torn and dusty, my lips cracked and parched. I am tired, filthy, crabby and confused.

My heart is going to break.

But. I am not alone.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Helpy Helpish

I've finished the Garden Jacket, but am completely stymied as to whether or not to add the pockets. Useful? yes. I need a place to keep Kleenex and Atavan. But it's not as pretty as I'd like.

Comment and tell me Yes or No on the pockets. Here are some photos to help you decide.
The sweater front "au naturel". Adorned only with a garden fork.

The sweater front with pocket in position. I had to mess with the colour so you could see the knitting better, so don't mind my freakish alien hand. In real life I am not a pale celadon hue.

I'm thinking if I end up putting them on, I will make some 3-stitch i-cord and sew it around the seam so it's nicer-looking.

And I have cast on another project. While standing in the knitting section of the library one day I turned a page in an interesting looking book, and stopped dead. "That's IT!" I hollered. "That's exactly what I need!" Within 24 hours I had been to the yarn store, bought some alpaca/wool, cast on, and was 14 inches in. I'll show you more later but right now it looks like nothing at all, so.

Here's a wee picture for you. Colour fairly true.

Tuesday is the five-year birthday of my blog. What a lot I have told you about over the years!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Aw crap.

A couple of years ago I reviewed a book called "Knitting and Tea". One of my favourite patterns in the book is the Garden Jacket, a cool reverse-stockinette thing with a trowel and a garden fork knitted right onto the front. I LOVE it.

I started knitting it last week, using my stash sweater-bag of Jo Sharp "Luxury Merino 8-ply DK" wool, which is not really DK at all. Using the ball-band-recommended needle size, I got a comfortably dense fabric of 19 stitches to 4 inches.

The ball band says I should have 22.5 stitches over 4 inches.

With nothing else appropriate in the stash, and having stared at this yarn for a year, wanting to knit it, I decided to just go with it anyway. I did the math and cast on for the smallest size...with the tension difference, I will end up with a size 44, which is perfect.

I was really motivated on this project, and knit the back in about three days. The back has a great little flower motif knitted into it high up between the shoulders...look how cute.

Carrying on to the front, I knit the right side first, and was about two inches from finishing it, when something bad happened. I picked it up and noticed there was a tightly gathered row right at the bottom of the trowel motif (four inches or so from the cast-on edge). There was a yarn end at the side, so I thought it was where I had joined in a new ball of yarn, and that it must have been pulled somehow and gathered the row. I smoothed the gathering out, and to my horror this is what came next.


I think what happened is, I (or someone - because I have no recollection of doing anything like this) must have pulled that piece out of my knitting bag, and it caught on a stitch holder or something, hooking it onto the end of one knitted row. It pulled out a length of yarn and snapped it. I thought it was a yarn tail from joining in a new ball, smoothed the gathers out, and.....

Sigh. I'm reknitting the entire piece. It is fixable - I've done this kind of repair before - but honestly it might be for the best...the piece was looking like it might be a tiny bit too small. I was using a Hiya Hiya needle, which is just like an Addi Turbo. They're slippery and I think I tightened a little to compensate.

So now I reknit with a bamboo needle, and hopefully the size is better. And hopefully I remember to take all sharp, hooklike objects out of my knitting bag so we don't have to go for Right Front 3.0.

My in-laws are visiting from Ontario this week, and my lovely mother-in-law brought me some cool Old Stuff from her house. I love it when she does this. She has lovely old things she has saved from the previous generation, and doesn't know what to do with them all. When I came along and married her son, I turned out to be a good solution...I love Old Stuff.  Look at these beautiful tea cups she brought.

I love these colours. I think I'm going to go put the kettle on, so I can rip out my carefully-knitted trowel while sipping soothing Earl Grey out of a pretty new cup. "Frogging and Tea"...great title for a sequel.