On Wednesday, I gave a talk on knitting and the positive impact it had on my dance with cancer, to a kind and attentive audience at Treacle Wool Shop.
I said the things I have said many times here: that knitting is a way of loving, of nurturing, of healing. That you don’t knit because you’re patient, you’re patient because you knit. Because when you are having a hard time, every time you pick up our knitting it reminds you that a lot of tiny little actions will add up to something substantial in the end.
I wondered, as I prepared for this talk, wen I first wrote about knitting here. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that a sock was the subject of my seventh ever post, in December 2008. As about five people were reading the blog then, I revisit it today, for the benefit of the 2000-odd of you who weren’t. I think I was quite prescient.
I needed to have more blood taken at the hospital today, so after waving goodbye to the oncologist and Alan (separately!) I took my ticket – 34 – saw that the counter was on 9, and – guess what? – got out my knitting.
I’m knitting some socks, which involves having stitches on 3 double pointed needles (DPNs) joined in a round, and using a 4th DPN to knit those stitches with. It’s perfect on-the-move knitting because it’s small, and you can just pick up where you left off.
So there I was, happily knitting around and around. I’m quite new to sock knitting, so they take me a while, especially the ribbed cuff. Also I get fed up with the fact that as soon as you finish one you need to do another just the same. (If you know any one legged people with cold feet be sure to put them in touch – I have several knitted items they might like.) By the time the counter got up to 22, I’d knitted about 2 inches of cuff, which represents roughly 4 hours of knitting time (not all waiting for blood tests, mostly on the tube and in a yarn shop yesterday).
Then it happened. I finished knitting the stitches on one needle and got ready to knit the next ones, but somehow I pulled the wrong needle, and yanked out a one that had 20 teeny tiny stitches on it. The stitches were too small and the end of the DPN too blunt for me to pick them up, although I tried. So I sat there, stunned, looking at the work unravelling in my hands.
Here’s the thing. A year ago, I probably would’t have been knitting a sock anyway. I’d have insisted that Alan waited with me so that he could listed to me complain about how unfair life is. A month ago I would have buried it in the bottom of my handbag in a strop and left it there. A week ago I would have cried, no question. Today I looked at all that unravelling knitting in my hands, then I rewound the ball and cast on again.
Now I’m not putting myself forward for beatification here. I’m aware that part of the reason for my calm response was a decent night’s sleep last night. Another part was the fact that Alan wasn’t there and sobbing over socks doesn’t really get you a lot of attention in a hospital where there are People With Real Problems. And I remembered the time I knitted a sock and didn’t graft the toe properly, so there went 8 hours of knitting – at least I am unlikely to have a sock knitting disaster that bad again.
No, I just think maybe I’m learning, and maybe this experience of cancer will allow me to get to grips with some things I haven’t managed yet. Like knowing which battles are worth fighting. (Not battles with sock cuffs.) Like having a sense of perspective. Like realising that if things don’t go quite the way I planned, or take longer than I hoped, it just might not be the end of the world.