I posted the Shedir hat as a finished object last week, but I wanted to tell its story a little bit. And in light of what Ann's post yesterday in response to the horrific events in Lancaster County, I wanted to share this now.
Pepe started preschool this year, and his teachers are an incredible team of warm, funny women, who enjoy their families, their three year old classes, and clearly enjoy each other. One of them, J, has been in treatment for breast cancer since March. She is finished with chemotherapy and is receiving radiation. Can you believe that this brave woman stood up in front of the parents gathered on back to school night to explain how her radiation therapy will not interfere with her being at school?? I think after radiation therapy, people earn the right to go home and pull the covers up over their head, but clearly, this is not J's style.
Of course, my response was to immediately go to the closest LYS and buy yarn for a chemo cap. I chose Berroco Ultra Silk, an incredibly soft yarn (I never thought I would be saying this about Berroco, but it's true. I loved it) in J's favorite pink, and I immediately whipped out the cable needle and began knitting Shedir.
As I began knitting, Mr S noticed how lovely and complicated this hat was. I think he said something like, "that's not an ordinary thing you are knitting there." It truly bordered on the exquisite, not the normal, stockinette-roll-brim-done-in-one-night kind of hat. I mean, this was one beautiful piece of knitting. If you ever want to impress yourself, knit this pattern.
But that's when the doubt started the creep in. I wondered if it seemed strange to give this truly exquisite, silk hat to a virtual stranger. And then I remembered one of my dear friends, S, a cancer survivor, who was an avowed scarf wearer. No chemo caps for her, thank you very much. And then several blogs began encouraging knitters to knit pink for October, and I thought that I could just anonymously donate to someone else. Maybe J liked her cotton caps just fine, and would think it was strange that I went to all this effort for someone. Or maybe it wouldn't fit...I had a million reasons to not give her that hat.
I gave it to her anyway. After class last week, I popped my head in, and offered it to her, wrapped in tissue paper. I tried to be as casual as possible. I told her that if she liked it, great, but if it wasn't "for her," or didn't fit, that she was under no obligation to keep it, my feelings would not be hurt. I told her that I had intended it for donation, but wanted to offer it to her with my best wishes for her recovery. If she didn't like it, I could donate it to any number of organizations that collect chemo caps. She seemed surprised and touched, and promised she would take it home and model it for her family and let me know.
I don't think I ever gave anyone a gift with so many caveats and explanations in my life, and I felt strange about the whole event. I really surprised myself by feeling strange about being kind to another woman, like somehow this would not be appropriate. I shared this story and all my doubts with the incredible SpiderWoman. If you do not read her blog, you really should. Her knits are beautiful, but it is her soul that I admire the most. And, as usual, she had the perfect thing to say (with her permission):
I think what you did was so wonderful. Knitters are so nurturing. So often I have a similar instinctual reaction to people I come in contact and honestly I just say go with your feelings. Think of it as a random act of kindness. I don't mean that to sound cheesy or new agey but I think we doubt our kindness more that we do our selfishness and I view that as a huge societal problem.
The way you offered her the cap and gave her an out if it wasn't her thing was fine. There are two possible outcomes that I can foresee. She loves the hat, is touched by your gesture, and uses it with joy. Or, it might not feel right on her, she might not know you well enough to give it back and she may not use it but I am sure that she will keep it. Even having it around will give her joy. The hat whether it is on her head or in her house will be a reminder that people acknowledge the challenge she faces and that they care enough to let her know they are thinking about it. That is a huge thing. People need their feelings validated. Having seen your friend go through treatment I am sure you know that. The hat you knit while useful takes on the symbol of communal care and that is it's most important function in my eyes.
I work with a lot of people from the Ivory Coast of Africa and the hardest adjustment they make coming to America is leaving their culture of care behind. Lucky for us they bring it with them. It wouldn't be unusual in some of the villages I have been told about to not only bring goods like your hat to someone you know is facing a challenge but you would also visit that person on a daily basis and check in to see if anything was needed. What a contrast to our culture where you just nod and wave at neighbors.
You know, it's really funny because I want to knit things for people I don't know so well all the time. There is a young farmer in my area who has started raising hogs and works really hard to provide the community with organically raised meat. He also sells chickens and eggs at the farmers market. Every time I see him I think, "He needs a watchman's cap". Last year I knit mittens for the couple who has an orchard in our area. They only know me as a customer but I wanted them to know I appreciate their work.
Don't doubt your gesture for a second. It was a beautiful thing to do.
At no point did I consider whether it was important if she actually wore it or not. As an obsessed knitter, I was too focused on the knit, on the actual use of the object and whether it pleased the receiver, not the feelings or the sentiment behind the gift. What was important is that she felt supported by her school community. What was important was my family's best wishes for her health, and for her to feel ackowledged during her ordeal.
So this week, J gave me a big hug, said that if she turns the brim up a little bit, it fits her great. She repeatedly called the hat "cute!" and said she loved it and so did everyone in her family. I don't think she saw the complicated twisted stitches, the luxurious yarn, the pages of instructions and days of knitting; she just saw a cute pink hat that a student's Mom made her when she needed one. In SpiderWoman's very wise words, it was a "symbol of communal care and that's its most important function."
I don't know if this has really anything to do with what happened in the Amish school. Is this kind of horror ever preventable? Mental illness is not cured by kindness and community. And what community cares more for each other than the Amish and their neighbors?
Maybe all I can do is counteract the violence and fear and indifference with a kind gesture. During times like this, it doesn't feel like enough.