When I was a companion in my partner’s recovery journey from a heart operation two years ago, I took to stitching – stitching on rice paper with red cotton thread. When life returned to ‘normal’ I stored these pieces away. The other day I opened my little sewing case again and finally arranged the loose pieces into a whole. One stitched square didn’t fit It was too ungainly. It looked like my early attempts at mending when I was at school. (See image)
We had a subject called ‘Handwork’( girls only), where we were taught how to mend socks. I pulled too much, squeezed too hard and so the edges become lumpy and pinched together. I was declared unfit for such delicate tasks by my stern teacher.
Our large household had a lot of worn socks, jumpers, ripped pants and skirts piled up in a corner of the spare room waiting to be repaired and so get another lease of life. It was women’s work but my mother was too busy with too many other women’s chores. So the pile grew. I often looked at it and imagined a mournful, even resentful atmosphere around this forgotten heap.
I grew up in a time and place where being thrifty was necessary and valued— where resources were limited and things couldn’t be easily replaced. Mending was therefore an important aspect of life—people mended clothes, pots, baskets, machinery. Yet it didn’t apply to the psychological and the psychic damage that was there. Those skills were not taught. The nimble and empathic mind and heart that is needed for psychological mending wasn’t encouraged. The inner life was ignored – too hard for hands and minds rough from work and survival.
Lingering and mending are related qualities. Only by lingering can the slow process of mending be done. That may mean to linger in the shadows that fall on the foot path– to be able to tolerate discomfort with ungainly things and not be in such a hurry to get away from them.
We all love the bright and the new. I do too. I love an afternoon of shopping, spent in the presence of bright new things and imagining new possibilities—a new interior design, an uplift in the kitchen, a new heart, a new soul and throw away the old.
I am re-reading a book by John Tarrant called, ‘The Light inside the Dark— Zen, soul, and the spiritual life’. It is unusual in scope and very evocative and lyrical about the relations between the two poles, spirit and soul. He writes, ‘The interior voyage overcomes loneliness by offering us a place in the universe, where we can know ourselves in the midst of all changes…To cultivate, to know, to love this vast inscape is the only way to be free in any circumstances, the only way to mend the poverty of wasted years.’
It is also useful to have a sewing kit when going on a voyage. I offered a very small one to my son recently before he departed on a trip. ‘I don’t need that Mum’, he said, ‘I’ll be fine’. I would have felt a little better if he’d taken it, if he could sew his buttons back on and mend the inevitable tears both inner and outer.