Women's Wisdom: A Tale of Love and Yarn
I have had the privilege of being present for both birth and death, two of life's most extraordinary spiritual transitions. When I was sixteen, a woman named Jackie came to live with my family. Jackie was in her late sixties, Jewish by birth and with a distinctly Buddhist outlook on life. She had been a family friend for many years and she had spinal cancer at the time when she came to be with us. She was receiving radiation treatment. Jackie's life had been colorful. She had lived in Asia, gently rubbing elbows through society with queens, heads of state and theater folk. She had a rich life and as often comes with such a life, Jackie had her share of tragedy as well. She lost both her husband and her daughter in heartbreaking sadness.
Jackie was an artist and craftswoman and she taught me how to knit. My interest began because I was fascinated by what her quick fingers and the soft yarn could make. Being sixteen and interested in clothing that resisted fashion trends, I paid close attention to her marvelous creations. Scarves, sweaters and hats in grass-green hues and variegated earth tones, silvers and golds too. She offered to teach me and we sat together for many months and I learned from her. I thought I'd be learning about knitting. In truth I learned about the deepest parts of how to be a human being, and the deepest notions of love.
One day Jackie decided to skip her radiation treatment. It was a clear November day in the southwest desert and it was a cool morning. I had the day off from school and Jackie asked me to take her into the desert to sit in nature. I wedged a couple of lawn chairs into the car and threw in a few blankets for extra padding for Jackie. I made a thermos of hot coffee with cream and honey, packed the knitting bag and we were off.
At the spot where we settled in, there was a huge boulder at our backs and a vast expanse of desert before us. The sun was almost entirely up scattering threads of light everywhere. The air smelled like earth, creosote and sweet coffee. It was quiet, still.
We sat in silence of a long while, absorbing the morning light and then we began to knit. At one point, Jackie put down her saffron-colored yarn, looked out over the wide expanse, closed her eyes and sighed deeply. She sat like that for a few moments and then opened her eyes, picked up the knitting and looked down at it afresh.
'This knitting is like your life, you know. You think you are just knitting something pretty, but you are knitting your heart into that scarf. Who you are moves into each strand and it tells your story.' She glanced over at me, her head wrapped in purple silk, her soft, brown eyes, tired.
I glanced down at my own scarf which had a couple of holes from dropped stitches that I hadn't fixed. I stuck my fingers through the holes and wiggled them around enthusiastically. We laughed.
'Oh Honey, the holes are part of life too,' she said. 'We have to be able to hold both love and hurt. In the end, Sweets, it's all about the love anyway, even the hurt is about the love. It's the biggest spiritual power there is, the only one that matters. In this life, we are always negotiating whether or not we can take in love or give out more love. That's it.'
I took in her words and let them settle inside. I loved her wisdom and the way she spoke, the way her lips moved into a one-sided smile of apostrophe. She was alive and intense and calm all at once. With a little hesitation I asked her about the love she felt for her daughter, what that kind of love felt like for her. I knew it was a tender topic; Jackie's daughter had a sad death and yet Jackie never shied away from real topics and real feelings and I loved that the most about her.
'When you hold your babies Lisa, you are going to feel the universe open up inside of you and to you. You won't know what hit you because your heart will have cracked open so wide. Sometimes when it is cracking you will think that you should close it back up. You might feel afraid at how open you are. But don't do that - don't close back up. The only thing that can happen is that your heart gets bigger and wider and you can hold even more love.' Many years later, as I held my daughter in my arms for the first time, I could feel Jackie with me and the deep truth of her words.
As November is here, I think of that cherished time with Jackie. I think of her willingness to share herself and her deep knowingness with me before she passed into another realm. This morning, as I opened my morning spiritual practice, lighting a candle, layering the air with the scent of cedar, I said a prayer for Jackie; a prayer to honor her Woman Wisdom and the truth that she so easily offered me: that love is the only real thing. That love just is.