Prologue: in which I Knit a Life Back Together
It seems to me that I have always known the joy of making things with my hands. From my earliest memories, knitting with two needles in my hands and a supple, colorful ball of yarn seemed to come naturally to me. Combine that activity with a quiet and sunny room, a comforting chair, solitude, and I have a perfect day. Winter days like this one cause me to remember a time when the possibility of ever knitting again seemed as far away as a distant star.
Knitting was something I had learned as a young child. I taught myself how to knit by looking at an instruction book and by visiting a local merchant on the main street of our little town. Her name was Libby, and she helped me select needles and yarn and gave me some lessons along the way. No one in my family knitted. I have no idea to this day how I ever became so absorbed in knitting, but it has been a lifelong passion.
It's been nearly a decade since something very unusual and disorienting happened to me. Overnight, I lost most of my eyesight when I was struck by a disease that I had never even heard of before. It was a stroke-like event that killed my optic nerves. There was no way to predict that this would happen and no treatment once it did its damage.
I learned rapidly that no one knew what to do with me. No one in my family or circle of friends knew anything about blindness. My doctors understood how to diagnose me, but not what to do from there. I did not know anyone who had profound sight loss. For a few maddening months, I tried to figure out what to do next. I thought my life was over, since I could do nothing I had done previously.
In the beginning, I did not know if it was day or night. The simplest tasks were impossible. How to cut my nails? How to get toothpaste on my toothbrush? How to apply make-up? How to make a cup of tea? How to make a phone call? How to even find a phone number? How to know what day it is and how to make an appointment on a calendar? How to memorize everything I would need to remember? How to use a computer?
The strain of trying to see and the constant failures in doing ordinary activities overwhelmed me. I felt useless and one morning I very quietly cried as I prayed out loud, “Oh, God. This is not how I want to spend my life!.” There were no more words I could say. I was heartbroken.
Like many people with blindness, I suffered from painful headaches. I learned that these are "bad eye days" and the entire body is affected by the brain straining to see. I was intensely aware of the connection between the brain and the body. My brain would try to see things, but my body could not do the work of "seeing" any longer. This would be similar to a camera that is set on “automatic focus” and if the camera is not able to focus, it just keeps on trying to do it. It’s exhausting! When a bad eye day would begin, it would often mean another three days or so of intense pain. I spent many days in bed trying to cope.
One dismal winter afternoon, I sat in the velvety reclining chair in our "pink room" as the children always called it. This room was a cozy, warm place, filled with afternoon light, where we visited with friends and sat to read on long winter days. My feet were extended on the footrest , and my eyes were closed. I often sat with my eyes closed since it helped me to relax and center myself.
On this day, I was thinking about the sweaters I had made for needy children through a charity and wondered how I would ever make a sweater again. I thought of the sweater I had been making at the time of my sudden sight loss. I longed to be able to finish it. Desire to complete this little child's sweater filled me, and I decided to get the unfinished project and give it a try.
I sat there with the yarn in my hands and held my needles tentatively. I could not even see the color of the yarn and certainly could not see the stitches or the needles. My eyes stared downwards, straining to see, but I could not.
I began by holding the yarn strand in place in my two hands. Just the feel of the yarn brought a surge of pleasure. The long aluminum knitting needles felt cool against my warm hands. I remembered how much I had always loved to knit. If nothing else in my life was going right, I always had my knitting. "Can I ever do this again?" I wondered.
I started very slowly, moving the needles and trying to get them to balance. I shifted them between my two hands and put them into my normal knitting position. My breathing became shallow as I struggled. I tried to begin, stopped, and tried once again for the familiar feel of yarn and needles, now so strange and clumsy. I felt awkward, my needles now complete strangers.
I simply could not do it. I felt worthless, my hands exhausted and heavy. Were these the same hands that had been so nimble and flexible my whole life? How could this be?
Suddenly, I had a slight, faltering revelation, something I had not thought about before: I could not do it because I was trying to SEE it.
The idea came to me like a gentle whisper in my soul. It felt like a patient voice telling me, “Since you cannot see, you should just close your eyes and try to begin to feel it with your hands. Let your hands be your eyes now.”
“How ironic,” I thought. “My desire to see what I am doing is preventing me from "seeing." I seemed to understand at this point that I must now learn to see non-visually. Intuitively, I knew I needed to use my hands and fingers combined with my other senses. My fingers would now become my eyes! And I thought, “Yes, instead of looking with 2 eyes, I can now look with 10 fingers!”
Soon, I was feeling my way through this task. I finished that sweater and donated it to the charity that provided sweaters for needy children. God had allowed my passion for knitting to become my breakthrough in healing, and knitting again was the beginning step on the path to recovery.
Shortly after this, I was able to attend a rehab center where I further developed my personal adjustment to blindness. Of course, I took my knitting along with me.
I knitted my way through the hard days of struggles and the depression of trying to re-learn how to do little things that people take for granted. I learned how to put my knitting patterns onto a digital sound device called a Milestone. Oh, how I love this little device! With my Milestone, I can carry the verbal directions with me and I can knit anywhere.
I learned how to put my patterns on a computer so I could read them again with adaptive technologies. I learned how to organize my knitting patterns in ways that I could access when I needed them. When I felt overwhelmed and tired for all the learning that I had to do each day, I retreated to my room and picked up my knitting.
By successfully knitting again, I gained confidence in myself and took pride in what I could do instead of lamenting my losses. Manipulating the needles and yarn gave me pride deep down in my creative soul.
When someone stops me and compliments me on a beautiful sweater or stunning jacket I am wearing, I give them a wide smile and say, "Oh, thanks! I knit it myself."
One of my greatest pleasures these days is to attend a knitting group where I can sit in a circle with other women who love to knit. I continue to experience the healing power of knitting as I stretch myself to do projects that are beautiful and satisfying. With each new knitting project completed, I gain confidence. I still struggle to do things that were once so easy for me to do. But, I see it now like my relationship with Jesus, a lifetime of learning to trust him to bring me to the place I need to be despite the obstacles we encounter.
Friends in my knitting group see me struggling and I sometimes become frustrated when I have to rip it all out and begin again. I say to them, “Knitting keeps me humble and constantly reminds me I need help.” With God’s grace, and faith in his guidance every day, I am learning to walk by faith and not by sight as I knit my life back together again.