On Knitting Your Life

17 03 2013

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Retired people are the best teachers. They’ve figured out the secret of living a good life and leaving a legacy.

I’ve had occasion to think about the broader view the past few days. A dear friend who spent his adult years helping others, and who welcomed everyone who walked through the doors of our church, died last week. He was the definition of hospitality. Everything he did was intentional, and if I had to describe him in three words, I would say he paid attention.

A saintly lady who is nearly 93 and is a valued friend and resource for understanding
European history (and, consequently, my family’s history), is also impacting my life view. She personifies selflessness. As a young woman she was part of the resistance in war-ravaged Netherlands during WWII, and to this day she speaks to children, young people and adults about the importance of non-discrimination. Her heart is with all the downtrodden, no matter their situation. She is accepting.

Since the age of five I’ve been a knitter, with several projects in the works at any given time. The process is second nature, something I can do while watching television, conversing, riding in a car, listening to music…any time I have a spare minute. It’s calming, comfortable, easy. . . until I make a mistake. Then it gets frustrating, challenging, hard.

Life is like knitting. When you get to the end you want to be able to look at the finished product and be proud of what you’ve made with the materials at your disposal. There are thousands of stitches in the piece you’ve made, and though each single stitch seems insignificant, each is attached to the next to create a unique and amazing result. The mistakes (and there will be mistakes) are what make it special, personal.

Think of your days as those knitted stitches, some done without much thought attached, some labored over with great care because of their intricate difficulty, some bungled and needing unraveling. Some days are easy, effortless, simple. Others are difficult, painful, impossible.

I know Ted lived his life well. He wasn’t perfect, but he learned how to be the best Ted he could be. I know Diet is still contributing to the lives of others, probably more than she should at her age, but she strives daily to give whatever she can. There were mistakes in her life, too, but she has learned and grown from them.

I hope that when my life is done, others will see it as having been worthwhile, mistakes and all. I hope to leave a legacy, although the benchmarks left by Ted, and those Diet still works on, will be tough to equal. If someone can look at my life and recognize the beauty in it and the worth of it, I will have done it well.

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Cycles

27 03 2012

Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

I’ve done thousands of pages of research over the past two years in preparation for the submission of my book, Such Secrets. The era is World War II,the setting is Europe, and the message I want to make clear is embedded in the first line of this post. While my story is fictional, I have been increasingly compelled to study and write about a dark time in our history; the unfolding of the Third Reich under the evil leadership of one man with a mission to eradicate an entire people.

Discrimination is an explosive word. We see it every day in the newspapers and we hear it on the daily news. My concern is that the word has become diluted. We see someone who ignores an older woman needing a seat on a bus and assume because she is a woman of color she is therefore being discriminated against. And yet that same ignorant person has already ignored pregnant women, handicapped persons and disabled veterans. The one doing the ignoring isn’t discriminatory–he or she is simply ignorant of the needs of others. This person has not been taught by caring parents that everyone, regardless of their station in life or their age or ability level, deserves respect.

Hitler knew what discrimination was. He practiced it with frightening clarity and a singleness of purpose. His plan spanned several years and was brilliantly laid out, one small step at a time. It was such a gradual transition–the gathering, isolating and withdrawal of rights of the Jews–that even the Jews themselves were unaware of the master plan. Enough time passed between each step that adjustments were made and the new way of life became the norm. By the time they realized the awful truth, it was too late. The noose was already tight around their throats.

I have a library of books dedicated to the systematic killing of the Jews in Europe. Most are first-hand accounts of the horrors of concentration camps. Many recount the brave underground workers who saved lives at the risk of their own. Man’s inhumanity to man is a grisly truth in each of those stories. And yet there was a seed of hope, a dim ray of light. Kindness still found its way into those unspeakable stories.

If there is any lesson to be learned, it is this: each person on this earth is deserving of our kindness. Each is a precious soul who at one time was born as an innocent. I don’t deny that some seem to be inherently evil. But the old woman dressed in rags, the young child with disabilities, the teenager of color, the soldier missing a limb, the drunk on a storefront’s doorstep–all of these are people just like us, with needs and dreams just like ours. If we can learn to care for our fellow men, what a changed world we would live in.

In the 1940’s a graphic picture of discrimination took shape. And we need to take note. Complacency is our worst enemy and our enemies’ greatest tool. Apathy leads to our figuratively falling asleep at the wheel. It will not end well.

The theme of WWII in Europe after the Germans were defeated is this: Never forget.

Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.