sewing the quilt of today

July 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Ma (my father’s mother) used to sew me patchwork blankets. She used her old Singer sewing machine and with deft fingers and swift feet, she maneuvered the machine like a maestro, bringing together scraps of cloth into a harmonious blend of comfort and warmth. Every year, we received those lovely blankets and I wish I had spent more time with her but like all children of mixed heritage, I could never get past the language barrier. I barely knew her.

During the war, Ma would make soup for her eight children using whatever was on hand. Sometimes, it was the crabs my father caught in the drain. Most of the times, it was stewed rats flavoured with the bark of trees. I have no idea if there was any great nutritional value in those soups but my aunts, uncles and father were all fit creatures.

To make more money, Ma smuggled opium for drug dealers. One of my favourite stories is of her hiding the packet of opium in the baby carrier, with my father in it. She was never caught but I wonder what went on in her mind, as she walked past the regimental police. She was fearless and hardy, tireless in her sacrifices for the family and for that, I honour her.

I could never finish sewing a quilt. I don’t have the patience.
I would never smuggle drugs. I am a law abiding citizen.
I will never eat rats. I love my wholemeal bread, fresh milk, wheatgrass and vitamins.

And yet… I am her grand-daughter. I look at myself and wonder if I have, somewhere deep within me, the same tenacity, creative strength and boldness she had. She survived the war. I felt like dying as I ran today for health reasons.

But I am a patchwork design of my ancestors and one day, I know I’ll be a source of comfort and warmth to someone. Maybe I’m just an unfinished product for now?

*

‘The biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs… I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in a hurry to get on to the next things: dinner, bath, book, bed.

I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.’

– Anna Quindlen

Each night, I sew.

I take the memories of minutes gone by, snippets of conversations and snapshots of the sad, spectacular and at times, even the empty spaces and weave them into words.

I sew because I have to. I want to remember.

The days go by too fast and if I don’t take note of them, incidents that just happened a few months ago turn into dusty images of a bygone era. It all happens too swiftly, is forgotten too easily. And my greatest fear is that one day, I’ll wake up and wonder: what did I do with my life?

But because I have woven these pieces into paragraphs of thought, I know I can pick up my patchwork blanket of the past, cuddle within it and remember.

We come into the world with nothing and will one day leave likewise. What will we have then but our memories?

*

‘I feel discarded and useless,’ The Mother confided in me last night. ‘Everyone around me is younger, more adept with technology, the constant changes in the environment and this culture’s style of communication. Sometimes… I even feel as though I’m the weakest link in the team.’

‘Useless?’ I nearly bellowed. ‘If they don’t see the strengths in you, they are the ones losing out! You are an amazing woman,’ I looked at The Mother sternly. ‘Have they struggled with deep poverty? Have they carved out an existence, career and established a family in an alien land? No! Have they run emergency rescue operations like you did years ago? No. I admire you. I think you have a wealth of wisdom I want to tap into. Mother… I want to be like you.’

‘Really?’ The Mother looked at me. ‘But what about work? What use am I to them?’

‘Hey, I feel that way too. There are times my weaknesses overwhelm me but that’s why I feel this journey is precious,’ I reached out to hold her hand. ‘These are precious times, moments when we really ask ourselves, what are we worth? What defines us? And I look to the Dream Maker and remember that He thought I was precious enough. He defined my value with His sacrifice. He treasures my days so much so that He carefully wrote my life’s story.’

‘That’s true…’

‘And if the people around you are filled with their own weaknesses, perhaps it’s good to let them walk out their own personal journeys too. I mean, they could be going through battles just like we go through, making mistakes and learning on a steep curve. It might be just as hard for them.’

The Mother smiled.

‘Thanks dear, for putting things into perspective for me,’ she leaned over to hug me.

And I sewed in that patchwork of conversation because I know one day… I’ll need to hear it for myself too.

*

I finished one article today and promptly sent off the wrong draft copy to the editor.

I completed the draft of another story that’s supposed to be the lead. It bends traditions in writing and feeling a little worried that it might be too different, I read it to the Mother. She didn’t get it. With a sigh, I trudge back to the writing desk and nibble my pencil in frustration.

I ran today, after two weeks of laziness. I didn’t go far. It felt hard. I want to give up and maybe not do the run this Sunday. I’m still thinking about it. I hate the taste of quit.

In all these things… my mind was focused on getting it done.

Maybe I should really start treasuring the doing a little more…

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