Friday, September 15, 2006

Shawl We Dance?

I am a praying person. Always have been as far back as I can remember. And I can remember a lot.

Children who grow up in traumatizing environments tend to develop either amnesia (forgetting as an anaesthetic) or hypermnesia (heightened memory and hyper alertness). The body has interesting ways of surviving painful events. I grew up surrounded by the angry depressed people in my family: both my parents and my two older sisters. Crisis and chaos abound in such families, and from about the age of nine or ten, I was often the most grown up, if not the only "grown up" person in the family. Someone had to take care of my little sister after all. So I was on. On deck, on patrol, on alert at all times. I was scared shitless my whole life, and I didn't even know it. Fear ran my adult life too, but it disguised itself as drive, efficiency, talent, perfectionism, and what looked like a great deal of success.

I bonded fiercely with God during those trying early years. I sensed his presence in the midst of desperate circumstances. He didn't make the bad things go away, but he stuck around. I held tenaciously to his coat-tails for dear life many times, not realizing that he was holding me more securely than I could have imagined. My prayers were simple. "Oh God, Help!" remains my favorite prayer to this day.

In any case, about four years ago he gave me a terrible gift. He gave me back all my packed-up emotions, all at once, during one indescribable week of my life. Technically it is called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I call it the last four years of my life. I got broken down to my bare foundations, and the rebuild has been slow and painful, terrifying and wonderful, eye-opening and amazing. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I am finally becoming my true self, and I have discovered precious freedom from so many things that used to keep me in a straitjacket. I am coming up on my four-year anniversary of that bizarre week, and the shawl I have been knitting since last May will be ready.

I started the shawl when I decided to end the formal part of my theological education. I was studying at Regent College, slowly working on a master's degree in Jesus-stuff and planning eventually to move on to PhD work and teaching at the graduate level. I had started this work two years before the big crack-up and had managed to limp along, even through the rebuilding process. Regent has been a critical part of my life's journey. It is an international graduate school of Christian studies. It is anything but religious, stuffy or narrowminded. We studied culture, both modern and ancient; learned ancient languages and how to read the Bible in its historical context. We discussed poverty, philosophy, history. I took a creative writing course. I learned how to challenge everything, how to question everything, how to doubt. I learned how to look at the world today from a much broader perspective. And I learned that I am anything but "in charge." After a lifetime of being in charge, I am learning to let go.

Last May, I finally realized that I was not the person I was when I began that degree and that the old goal of moving up and up and up into more complexity in life was not going to wash with who I am now. I decided to graduate with a diploma instead of a degree. Now that I have graduated, I can audit courses at a greatly reduced rate. I can still have all of the fun of learning without the stress of papers and exams. That sounds good to me.

But the leaving was difficult. It represented yet another loss and a time of grieving. I decided to make the shawl so that I would have something unfinished, like my unfinished feelings about leaving behind my educational and career goals. I knew it would take time to make the shawl, and that making it would give me a focus for some of my feelings as I worked on it.

The shawl is knitted in super cuddly Berroco Ultra Alpaca. The pattern is "Wavy Lace Wrap" in Vogue Knitting Fall 2005. I used five skeins of Ultra Alpaca (appx. 1100m) and size 5mm needles. The colour came out most accurately in the picture up at the top of this post. It is a deep midnight blue/purple blend. I wanted something dark and rich and comforting. I made a few mistakes in the border lace pattern and left them in on purpose. Imperfection is sometimes a good thing.


Laurie said...

Jayne, your shawl is lovely. Thank you for your beautiful post. . .

CatBookMom said...

Lovely shawl, and a nice story. Having been through some of the same life-changing stresses, I, too, am learning to live with a much slower pace of life. Knitting, and new friends like you, are the best part of the new me. They were really dark clouds, but it's a great silver lining.

junior_goddess said...

Oh, Jayne, that's a pattern called Japanese something or other in one of the BWs. I always loved the look of it, and I think your shawl shows it off wonderfully.

Isn't it funny? When we were little, we couldn't wait to grow up. As if it were a door that we'd pass thru. I never imagined I would stress so much as a grown-up, or learn so much about myself.

benne said...

Perfection is an unreasonable demand to make on ourselves and expect in others. It's a no-win way to live, remaking the past and attempting to control the present. Your shawl is a wonderful way to continue and mark the letting go.

Trish said...

Dear Jayne, thanks for sharing your story with us. I can relate on many levels, as I, too, had to be a hypervigilant and super-aware child. I enjoy lace work for many reasons, one of which is the hypnotic state the knitting and repetition can put me into, and also the ensuing order out of chaos that occurs after blocking. Some of my most prolific work has come from periods of high stress in my life.

Suzann said...

Jayne your shawl is beautiful. It will be a warm comforting cloud around your shoulders.
I sometimes think perfection, or the expectation of perfection is how we set ourselves up for a fall. Then we have to start all over again. Until we are exhusted and willing to God's voice.
If you were at Regents Uni, you were half a mile from my home :)

jayne said...

I know what is true in my life. I am always encouraged to hear that it is true for others also. Thanks for your comments, all of you.

I believe now that the striving for perfection is motivated by fear. When we get free of that fear, we have the courage to fail, to be weak and to accept help. We can be open to uniqueness, to see beauty in all things --and to receive love and grace. It's hell to get there, but worth the journey.

SooZ said...

I am blessed to read a part of your journey. It was a heartfelt post and one that provokes an inner voice among the reader. We cant run, we can't hide. Facing our anxiety head on brings freedom. Thank you for sharing with us.