One of the things I like most about life is that we never know the effect of any small gesture of kindness. When this life is said and done, each of us may find out that a smile to a sad woman in the line at the grocery store or some other small moment of acknowledging our common humanity was the action that mattered most in our whole long lives. I love that.
Not only does it help deflate my grandiose notions that anything worth doing is worth doing in a big way, but it also encourages me to keep going with small acts of kindness. Yesterday I had a great opportunity for small kindnesses. The two fifth grade classes in William’s school recently decided to knit two “Afghans for Afghans” after they read ‘The Breadwinner’, a book about a ten year old girl growing up in present day Afghanistan. Heather Gallagher, the darling fifth grade teacher who had William in her class last year, asked me to come help teach the thirty fifth graders to knit. Heather gathered sixty #10 needles and lots and lots of wool. Our plan was to have each child knit a simple square for the afghan. We began the project by spending Monday evening casting stitches onto every child’s needles with the wool color of their choice. Then we knit a row or two on each child’s square since it is that first tight row after casting on that is so difficult to get off the needle and potentially so discouraging for the novice knitter. Yesterday, Heather had us work with half the fifth graders for one period and half for another period. When I got to the school, that first group was waiting for me, fifteen upturned faces with their needles pointing in all directions and everyone squirming, squirming, squirming because they had just been to the library and consequently were full of energy. What to say? What to do? What to show them?
I taught myself to knit in tenth grade. I spent that winter driving around in an ancient convertible with a group of teenagers. I knit them each a pair of mittens from my assigned place in the back seat. I can remember the winter wind blowing my hair and the yarn all around and all of us exhilarated that one of us had a driver’s license. This is a fond memory, but not much help for figuring out how to teach kids to knit.
So…… I just plunged in. I gave a general demonstration of holding the work in your left hand and sticking the needle in here and looping it around the back needle before pulling it down and off there. Then Heather and I and a wonderfully helpful aide started going from child to child to work with each one until they got it.
And oh my! They did get it! There wasn’t a soul in either class that didn’t spend our time together working with intense and completely earnest determination. One by one each child got the rhythm of the basic knit stitch. And what a moment that was for each of them. And then as they knit stitch after stitch, some a little peculiar, but all as earnestly done, it was a good chance to let them know that their effort mattered more than how much they got done or if what they did had some funny puckers and bobbles. When someone started a row with forty stitches and ended with forty seven it was a chance to say, “Not to worry! This is a one of kind afghan and that will be great.” And when kids dropped stitches I could say, “Not to worry! These can be picked up later. The afghan is going to be a sort of crazy quilt so the loving effort not the shape of the swatches is what matters most.”
The boys were as completely invested in this project as the girls. No one registered this as something only girls did, though many spoke of their grannies and what rhymes their grannies used for knitting and how fast their grannies could knit. I felt so lucky to be there. It was clear that some kids who generally found school a challenge had found a real competency with knitting. What a gift to help them discover that they were naturals with knitting needles. There were cheers when someone finished a row and cheers when someone got their first stitch done without my hands on their hands. It was so little effort for so much joy. It reminded me of an additional point about acts of kindness, regardless of their importance or lack thereof, it’s fun to be kind.
I have been fretting a bit about whether my encouragements to you to do a gardening project with the Angels and Elementals is off putting because each of you already has ways you are connecting to our common divinity and don’t need a Nosey Parker telling you what to do. In truth, I don’t know how to encourage you. I only know the Angels and Elementals want me to do this. I have thought about just keeping on describing my work to design this year’s gardens, but I worry that these descriptions of all Green Hope Farm’s complicated garden designs and projects make most people want to throw in the trowel, not start a garden. To say that everything I do is built on the same simple steps as when my garden was a big planter out front of my first apartment, might sound as suspect as showing yesterday’s new knitters an Aran Island sweater and saying, “This is just more of the same stitches that you learned today.” TRUE but maybe not motivating.
So maybe I must simply rest in knowing that for some reason the Angels and Elementals want me to keep on giving informercials for them. Some of my infomercials will probably be really obnoxious and some may encourage you to follow that nudge and plant a big pot of some gorgeous Flower or Herb or Vegetable in celebration of our common divinity. I only hope you have as much fun in your gardens this summer, whatever their size and shape, as those new knitters had with their knitting yesterday.