The Return of the Norwegian Mittens

 “All life, living or ‘dead,’ is interwoven like silk
threads in a fine brocade.” — Philip Kapleau

img_8611.jpgI was in Utah for my birthday this year, visiting my sister. She pulled–from where, I do not know–a pair of Norwegian mittens and a reindeer hat my mother had knit before she went blind, long before she died in 2017.
“Do you want these?” my sister asked. “They’re wool and irritate my skin.”

Emotions roiled within me as I picked up the mittens and the hat:

Shame that I hadn’t taken them when we were dividing things up and cleaning out my parents’ house. Because I knit, these products of her knitting would have been so meaningful to me. Why did I cast them aside? Was I just overwhelmed by the amount of memorable things we had to dispose of in a short period of time? Why did my sister, a non-knitter, rescue them while she was there alongside me, shoveling through the same stuff? I must have a hard heart.

Shame that I was probably not complimentary to mom when she was working on these complicated Norwegian mittens–this was during the time that I didn’t want to take up “women’s work” because it was demeaning. “Women’s work” would proclaim I didn’t care about my career. I think I barely looked at the mittens when she tried to show them to me. I might have thought to myself, “Why in the world would she think I have time to knit when I have an important career, and an all-consuming job? Why doesn’t she ask me about my job instead of showing me this mitten?” I must have an inflated sense of my own importance in the world.
Shame with the realization that I probably wouldn’t have even tried on the hat because it was wool and I knew wool irritated my skin. I didn’t SEE the work that went into the knitting. I didn’t see the craft-ship, the love and attention poured into the work–because I wouldn’t look at it. I must have not just a hard, but a selfish heart.

Sorrow about the missed opportunities to connect with my mother through this craft she liked doing. In most circumstances–at least nowadays–I try to be open, attentive and considerate of other people, and most of all, I am encouraging them in whatever it is they do. But not, I realize now, nearly 2 years after her passing, not with my mother.

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“I have been trying to
make the best of grief
and am just beginning
to learn to allow it to
make the best of me.”
–Barbara Lazear Ascher

My grieving for my mother churns on quietly, day and night, in the background of things. It’s not sharp or palpable. And I still find the sight of something–particularly wild birds and flowers–makes me catch my breath as a sharp dart of memory pierces my heart. Certainly, holding the mittens and really looking at them, their complexity, the detail of them made me ache, wishing I could have spent time with her, letting her show me her work, letting her shine. 

“To live in remorse is to live backwards. If death is to have any meaning at all
it is to teach us the power of love and to allow that power to propel us
through the rest of our days.” –Barbara Lazear Ascher

The sorrow and shame I write about originated in a much younger me, an ambitious, stressed-out, career-oriented person who worked for organizations and companies, not creating my own art or craft–this is NOT an excuse for my past behavior. But while I still feel shame and sorrow, I also see and appreciate my slow evolution to a more aware, more compassionate, gentler self.

I know that kinder self grew from decades of experience and learning, from terrible blows and deep lows, from the example of many people who have been part of my life, from teaching knitting to cancer patients and being in awe of their strength, from losing beloved friends, beloved animals, and much loved husbands–and, yes, from losing my mother.  IMG_8579

“This world is not conclusion.
A sequel stands beyond–
Invisible, as Music–
But positive, as Sound.”
–Emily Dickinson

That softer self brought yarn to my blind and debilitated mother during her months-long good-bye, trying to help her feel some joy in the familiar texture and weight of yarn. I knit in her room with her, and let her feel things I was working on. I talked about the knitting. I don’t know if she heard or cared. But maybe she did. She just couldn’t answer by then.

I wonder what she would have talked about if she could have spoken. Maybe she’d have tried to talk about those complex Norwegian mittens which were a source of pride for her. And I would have listened. I would have asked her a lot of questions about knitting, about why she chose to make those mittens, how she felt making them. I would have told her how impressive those mittens are to me, especially now that I knit. And I would have said that I was sorry I was such a cold-hearted daughter. I would have assured her that the next time we meet, I’ll be a lot kinder.


“Just as the waves lash at the shore, the rocks suffer no damage
but are sculpted 
and eroded into beautiful shapes,
so our characters can be molded

and our rough edges worn smooth by changes.”
— Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

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