There are things you cannot reach. But you can reach out to them...the wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God. And it can keep you busy as anything else; and happier. I look; morning to night I am never done with looking. Looking; I mean not just standing around, but standing around with your arms open.
- Mary Oliver
Putting on the unfinished knitted sock

Putting on the unfinished knitted sock


A week ago, I took a day to unpack the contents of six boxes that had been stored in the crawl space of my former life. They included journals, photos, mementos, books, and those treasures that have no obvious category. A few were filled with the items I’ve saved from my mother, sister and grandmothers’ lives. There was also a box of stuff from my childhood and college years that I hadn’t looked through in a few decades. I listened to unsentimental music, and podcasts and this helped me to stay the course. I did read through two of the journals, in their entirety - the one from 9th grade and the one from my first year of motherhood. They were incredibly revealing, as was the whole unpacking process.

This museum of my former life included several rooms, each with a different setting, characters and life stages. There was a lot about friends (cards, photos) and my kids, and not a whole lot of evidence of achievement. There was a good review of one of the two professional plays I directed, back in the day. There were a few good papers that I’d saved from college, and a screenplay that I wrote, that no one but a teacher ever read. And finally, there were these raggedy woolen socks, one of them still on the needles, that I never finished.

I know exactly when I started them. It was ten years ago, when my little sister was pregnant. Bhu (my sister) and I decided to knit wool socks for each other. She was in Montana and I was in Georgia so we did not see each other’s progress. But in our frequent phone calls, we each had lots to say about how badly it was going. We were not knitters to start with and knitting socks is ridiculous! You use two small needles and then knit on both sides of each needle. Somehow, accompanied by many tantrums, I followed the pattern I’d bought at the knitting store and managed to almost finish my second sock by the deadline. I was floating. If I could tackle learning this, then there is nothing I can’t learn.

One day, without warning, a brown paper package appeared in my mailbox, my name written on the front in Bhu’s gorgeous handwriting. She had finished her socks early! I was impressed. I unwrapped the paper. I remember my first glimpse of their loveliness. She had used a yarn that meandered between several glorious shades of green and blue. But it wasn’t just their fabulous colors that struck me. It was their sockness! As if woven by master elf knitters, they were perfect. I put them on. Instantly, I heard the Hallelujah chorus coming from my feet. Warmth, luxurious softness... my feet had never known such bliss (I hadn’t yet discovered foot massage!)

What about all of the complaining about how crooked they were and how she was sure that they would be too big? I looked again at my socks for her, those that you saw up above. And then, I never looked at them again, until last week. How could I have sent those to her, after what she’d made for me? Having tried them on last week, they would never have fit on her feet. The one that is finished barely fits on mine and my shoe size was three sizes smaller than hers. I wish that I could post a photo of her amazing socks. But I left one of them in a hotel room in Chattanooga, many years ago, and when I called the hotel they said it had been incinerated (they incinerate all underwear.) This was a tragedy. I got rid of the second one because looking at it just made me sad for its missing match, as well as for my missing sister.

In discovering these unfinished socks with all of their imperfections, my first reaction was “ach! Yet another unfinished project.” But as I’ve looked at them all week, waiting for me to do this blog post, they have softened my opinion of myself. I kept them. I could have unraveled that expensive wool yarn and used it in an easier project. But I valued what I had done in some way. I do still feel pride in having learned how to work with those tiny needles towards something resembling a sock. They are an example of me not going for perfection. And that is good.

There is a photo of me as a two-year old showing me trying to touch my fingers together over my head. I have the most intense expression of commitment to the task at hand. I guess a gift I have and need to appreciate about myself more is enthusiasm. I express it more for others accomplishments, most currently for my teen students, and that expression is my accomplishment! I see how they shine. I want them to see it too and want to help them figure out how to get there if they are still too afraid. In those boxes of stuff, the photos of my kids doing their own unique thing, confidently, are the bits of the past that I want to recall. I am very much not a natural knitter. To get better socks, I would have had less time available to those boys.

This is really a love note to myself to encourage me to keep writing through to the better perspectives, to put this blog writing out there, even if it won’t fit anybody else’s feet, even this blog post, that has meandered as much as that green and blue wool yarn. And, this winter, I may even finish that second sock.

With love to those having trouble with perfection,

The previous chapter

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