Rebeka is doing great. Intermittent Advil now, no getting up in the middle of the night because of leg pain. We stand her up and encourage her to put weight on her left foot. That leg is all about rehabilitation, all done with surgeries! On to the right leg, which is in a long leg cast and will be manipulated weekly until late January/early February when we’re ready for another round of surgery. So we get a little holiday respite, hooray!
Last weekend a good friend came to show Rebeka and I how to knit. Some sweet friends had already shown Rebeka the basics, and she seemed to grasp the concept just fine when her knitting tutors were by her side, but she never asked to knit much after they left. I wanted to encourage her. This could be a trade she could take home with her. There are no knitters in Bugesera, not that I know of. It could be a way for her to make a living someday, or make money for her family now, or a gift to her community. So why didn’t she ever pick up those knitting needles? I think she wanted a little company.
I am not a crafty person. Words are my medium, not needles, thread, glue, scissors, paper or paint. And yet ever since I watched the knitters in Noble Hall while attending residencies in Vermont at VCFA, I’ve wanted to learn. Just think of the multi-tasking possibilities! Now I had another reason to learn. I could help Rebeka. We could knit side by side in solidarity. So my friend came. We took before and after pictures. This is how we felt when we were learning.
But this is how we felt after a couple hours of careful attention from our faithful instructor and friend, who picked up our dropped stitches and showed us again, and again, and again how to get started and keep going.
There is a part of me that loves this new skill, and there is a part of me that hates it. The part of me that loves rules, do this and this and this and then it will all turn out just fine, loves knitting. But the problem is, I like to do things fast, I’m not very careful. I drop stitches. And I don’t really understand what’s happening, I’m just following rules. I don’t understand how the stitches are being made, so this is what happens.
I’d like to say that we’d found something where Rebeka and I are on equal footing, but Rebeka is actually better than me. She is careful. She is slow. This is mostly because of her hands, with middle fingers that stay in her palms and arms that don’t lift of their own accord, she must figure it out, and it takes a while. At the Texas Book Festival I listened to a panel where Gary Schmidt, author of the new and fantastic book What Came From the Stars, said that he writes on a manual typewriter to slow himself down. No computer. Oh my.
Slowing down is good, I know I need it, and Rebeka slows me down big time. No longer do I race out of the car, down the aisles at the grocery store, and blaze past the Buddy Buck machine to my car to tear out of that parking lot and into another. Rebeka and I know the stores with the good carts (Target and HEB=comfy seat for Rebeka that accommodate two casts, Costco=hoist into the basket and sit amongst the frozen foods). I make myself wait for her to twist the top off that toothpaste tube every morning and night because she deserves at least a little bit of control in this world where she controls so little. She “helps” with dinner and laundry and leaf-raking.
And it takes longer. Sometimes a lot longer. Sometimes things just don’t happen at all. But it’s what I needed. There are afternoons, waiting rooms, or quiet evenings when I sit down next to Rebeka and we pick up our needles, side by side, and knit a row or two. I don’t have my computer in my lap, I’m not checking off my list. I lament the stitch that slides off my shiny blue needle and Rebeka patiently sets her knitting down to take a look at what happened. Most likely I was going too fast.
Rebeka intuitively understands how the stitches are being made, and sometimes she can fix my mistake. And it isn’t really about learning a trade anymore, a way to make money someday back home. It’s about a quiet, slow moment in time when a little girl slowed me down for a while. It’s about learning how to make something from nothing, and taking the time to do it. It’s about stepping out of my comfort zone of working with words and trying something new.
There are many things we’ve been able to give Rebeka. A home, hugs, books, English, medicine, knitting tutors, education . . . but I think she gives us more. Long after Rebeka goes home again, I will treasure this raggedy old washcloth I’m knitting. I will look at the holes and the lumps and the messed up edges and I will remember patient fingers who find a way and I will remember why.