"This is how you cast on," chirps the effervescent salesclerk. I'm taking my first knitting lesson. In the wake of Sept. 11, I am looking for some measure of peace and calm and am hoping I can find it working with my hands. I am looking for a way to put the omnipresent news of this war behind me.
So I want to keep my hands busy. I cook. I change diapers. And soon, I'll knit.
Knitting is one of those things you think you might learn someday, but usually the time isn't quite right: too much other stuff to do. But after watching the World Trade Center collapse on TV in two thunderous sobs, I decided the time was right, right about now.
"And this is how you knit," says my teacher, a very short woman with wire-frame glasses. She is so enthusiastic I wonder if she thinks knitting can save the world, one stitch at a time. I'm hoping maybe it can. She puts one needle behind the other, wraps the yarn around the second needle and loops the needle through. I watch her hands speak this foreign language. They move slowly, assuredly. Nice, even, plump stitches emerge from her work. "Here, you try."
My fingers are clumsy, their movements awkward. She cheers me on. My needles click, and I smile at the picture of this new homespun me. When I was younger, I tried on various identities, hoping one would eventually fit. But in none of them did I see myself as a knitter.
"Ouch!" I yell as I stab my finger with a needle. "Well," says my teacher, "knitting does keep you present."
I want to punch her sanctimonious snout, but her earnestness stops me. I don't want to be present. I want to forget. I am hoping knitting will help me forget. I want to knit through my fears, through my anxiety. And I want to create something tangible for my children, something to hold on to in this shaky world.
That night, I put my children, who are both two years old, to bed. Matthew looks at me through his crib slats and says, "Sit, Mama." I get my knitting and sit on the rocking chair. "Mama knitting," Jack says.
I start counting -- purl five, knit five, purl five, knit five. I admired this pattern in a sweater in the knitting store, and the teacher assured me it would not be hard. But somehow this row has only four stitches left where there should be five. And I notice I dropped a few stitches three rows back. Do I rip the rows out and try to make the scarf perfect, or keep going?
I begin to feel agitated. Why did I pick this pattern in the first place? It's tedious and it's bugging me. I have to keep counting five knit, five purl, for what seems like an eternity, because this damn scarf I've committed to is three skeins long. Well, I think, at least I'm agitated about something other than the war.
I hear the quiet sounds of my children's breathing and know they're asleep. I sit in this dim room, with my knitting on my lap, rocking. I can't quite believe how much love fills these walls. How it all feels authentic and hard-won. I feel incredibly lucky.
I decide to keep knitting so I can feel this grace a little longer. This nursery feels warm and safe. I don't want to think about the war. Or my nagging suspicion that what is good and beautiful in this world can be gone in an instant. I don't want to think about the war, but I do. I think about other mothers halfway around the world trying to feed emaciated children. I think about mothers throwing themselves on top of their children to save them from American bombs. I see the hijackers' faces and I see myself shooting them point-blank between the eyes.
I knit faster to keep these thoughts at bay, but it's not working. Jesus! What does it take to calm me down? How can I feel at home in this new world?
So far, knitting isn't fun. And it's isn't keeping the world outside from coming in. But I'm not ready to give up. My nascent scarf looks like a doll's blanket, but it will grow. I can already see the beginnings of the checkerboard pattern I liked so much in the knitting store. I run my hands over its short body and the wool feels warm. In the pumpkin yarn I notice flecks of deep raspberry. I imagine that one day it will be a fine scarf and will look especially nice against my old chocolate-brown suede coat.
People all over the world know what it's like when war hits home. But I never did. Now every time I hear a strange, loud sound, I look up at the sky and wonder. I open the newspaper, afraid to read more bad news. I want to stick close to home. My world feels much less safe than it did before, and things much less certain.
In this new normality, and in the most cosmic scheme of things, I have no certainty that I will be able to keep my children safe. It was all an illusion anyway. Sept. 11 just put the final stamp on it.
I imagine the sweaters I will make one day for Jack and Matthew, when I'm a much better knitter than I am now. I picture great, funnel-neck sweaters -- tomato red on the outside and mustard yellow on the inside. I think of my children wearing them and hope there is time enough to make them.