Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Knitting as Metaphor

"In 2002, on an unusually hot April day, my five-year-old daughter Grace spiked a high fever and died 36 hours later from a virulent form of strep. For my entire life until that moment, I had turned to reading and, later, writing for comfort. But in the face of this unimaginable and enormous loss, I could not find solace in words. In fact, I felt there were no words that could comfort my broken heart or express my grief adequately."

This is the beginning of Ann Hood's excellent essay, "Still Knitting," which I read in the latest edition of the Powell's Books newsletter. I have been a long-time fan of Hood's, having really enjoyed many of her novels, including "Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine." I did not realize until I had read in a magazine a year or so ago that she had lost her five-year-old daughter to illness, and of course was shocked and saddened. I had met Ann, back when I attended Breadloaf Writer's Conference in Middlebury, Vermont, in the early 90's, and I remembered how "dashing," she was, full of literary power and an unusual stage presence. Everyone noticed her when she walked into the room, and her public readings held everyone mesmorized. The essay describes how she turned to knitting to help channel her grief, and very aptly points out that sometimes we "need to do something with our hands," to help us get through certain stages in life, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, because in a way, we never truly totally heal from life's traumas.

Of course, it is not the first time that knitting has been used as a symbol of working through life's challenges. I have in my bookshelf yet to read, "The Friday Night Knitting Club," by Kate Jacobs, and I'm sure there are countless others. Yet this metaphor really rings true for Hood, and for many others I've no doubt, so I'm looking forward to reading "Comfort: A Journey through Grief," about how her life has changed and how she has coped. As someone who took up jewelry making a week after September 11, I am not surprised at the ability of distractions to, if not distract us, at least take us to a more manageable place, and provide comfort.

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