September 27, 2011

Finger Knitting

"Grandmother, I am almost grown now. How shall I live my life?"  Nala was almost 13 years old. She had been thinking about her impending adulthood. Now she stood before Grandmother with questions in her eyes.

Grandmother was taken aback by the sudden approach. She had been sitting with her knitting needles and a ball of good wool--her old friends these 45 years at least--when her Little One approached her. She put them, along with her hands, on her faded calico apron that covered an even more faded green and gold paisley skirt and quietly turned to the child and looked into her young, green eyes. Grandmother thought that Nala'a gaze was that of a much older girl, one trying on the airs of a woman.

"Little One," she said in a gentle tone, "Why do you ask this question? You have many years yet to prepare for the challenges that certainly come in to every life." She waited.

Nala straightened her spine. If she looked taller, she thought, she might be taken more seriously. "I am growing bigger all the time, Grandmother," said she, standing even straighter as if to show proof, "and before I know it, I will be a woman."

Grandmother looked at the tiny woman-to-be, with the knock knees and skinny arms and legs. She knew this time came for all girls. The time when they felt they could no longer wait to grow up, the time when they wished that time would move faster. Little did they know... but then, who could change the way things had always been? She sighed, wished that childhood would last just a little bit longer in the hearts of girls, and then she reached for Nala's hands.

Nala recognized the gesture and held them out from long, thin arms, palms up. Grandmother's hands, thick from many years of hard work and much bigger than the child's, came up under Nala's. She pushed Nala's hands up to force a bend at the elbows, making her fingers point at the ceiling. Nala noticed that Grandmother's hands were much stronger than they looked, with very soft, crepe paper skin to cover them.

Leaving Nala's fingers pointing up, Grandmother reached silently for her wool and began.

She tied a loop at one end and placed it on Nala's pinky finger. Nala thought the wool was rough.

"First, Little One, you must begin with a foundation, solid and firm." She began weaving the yarn back and forth in a figure eight around the child's small, soft fingers. "The foundation is the beginning and if it is sound, you can always return to it if you lose your way."

Nala was puzzled. She had come for answers. "Grandmoth--" she tried, but Grandmother continued weaving the yarn slowly, deliberately back and forth.

"Along the way, you will encounter many choices," she began to pull the second row of yarn over the first, creating little circlets," and you will have to make decisions. Keep following your foundation and you will make fewer mistakes."

Grandmother continued weaving back and forth, back and forth, then pulling the yarn over each finger one at a time. Nala decided to be silent for a moment. After a few more times around, Grandmother took Nala's hand and, without words, showed her how to weave back and forth, too. There was a chain forming at Nala's knuckles. She became fascinated by the intricacy of the quickly growing fabric formed by the simple wool yarn.

Nala struggled as she tried to mimic the movements Grandmother made, but Grandmother guided her hand. "Remember not to only rely on yourself on your journey, Little One, do not be afraid to ask for help from those you trust."

Back and forth, back and forth Grandmother worked.

"What if I make a mistake when I am alone?" Nala worried, "Will my chain unravel?"

Grandmother smiled, "You can make some mistakes and your chain will still stay strong. It might even become more interesting."

The slow, even weaving process resumed, and Grandmother looked down once more, helping Nala's fingers do the work.

"Grandmother, will I be able to do this on my own?"

"Your hands will eventually remember the motions. When you make the correct motions from the start, you might be slow at first, but you will form good habits and you will do this more and more with ease. Your skill will become strong."

Grandmother had not addressed the idea of an unraveling chain. Nala was a bit unnerved by this. "Grandmother, what if I make a mistake that does not hold strong?"

"Your chain will unravel. Sometimes all the way." Grandmother was unmoved by her own statement. She just continued weaving slowly, laboriously. Nala could not understand this.

"If it unravels all the way, what would I do?" Nala searched Grandmother's eyes.

"If your foundation is strong, you can always start over." Patiently Grandmother continued back and forth, back and forth.

That sounded like a lot of trouble to the child. Nala was impatient, as children often are. To work for so long only to have something come completely undone! How could Grandmother be so calm?

"How do I do it right in the first place? I mean, Grandmother, it does not sound good to have to begin again!" Nala was becoming irritated. "I do not wish to have to reweave my chain!"

Grandmother stopped weaving for a moment and firmly held Nala's hands in hers. The wool scratched Nala's hands. Grandmother looked once more into Nala's eyes. So young. They had gone from confident to uncertain. Grandmother firmed her lips, then she smiled.

"Sometimes that is when we learn the most and the best, Little One."

Grandmother loosened her grasp on Nala's hands. Together, they continued the task of weaving the wool into a chain. It was getting very long.

At length, Nala asked Grandmother one last thing: "Grandmother?"

Grandmother stopped.. "Yes, Little One?"

"What do I do when my chain is finished?"

Grandmother did not even hesitate. "Use it to show another the way."

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