Some years ago, I did a stint as the Shop Manager at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA. It was a pretty chaotic time for me personally, as I had been taken by surprise by a guillotine finish to a 23 year marriage. I knew I needed some time away from the quasi-public role of pastoring a church, some time to mourn and heal.
The Healing Touch and Touching to Heal
I was lucky to be able to parlay previous volunteer experience and League of New Hampshire Craftsmen credentials into something new. The Quilt Museum was a good place for me to be. I ordered books and fabrics, discovered Japanese textiles, met some amazing artists and scholars, and generally soothed myself with work that involved touching and arranging beautiful things. I am not a quilter, so the learning curve was steep. That in itself was good medicine. There is nothing like full immersion into something new when life is flying away from its known vortex.
One of the books I re-ordered for the shop a number of times during my tenure was called I Remember Mama, based on a project organized by Karey Bresenhan as a tribute to her mother. Texan Karey Bresenhan is something of a legend in quilting circles and one sharp businesswoman. She’s behind the big Houston quilt show—Mecca for quilt enthusiasts.
The quilts Bresenhan gathered for I Remember Mama were based on quilters’ memories of their mothers. A number of the artists incorporated echoes of their mother’s voices–stitching maternal expressions, turns of phrase, and words of advice into their designs.
Things Our Parents’ Say
When we move away from our parents (or when they die and move away from us), their signature phrases may start to resonate in our minds. We hear and remember (and begin to repeat) those pithy snippets of wisdom.
My siblings and I will still sometimes say in unison “Throw it up against the wall and if it sticks, it sticks.” That was the offhand, but frequently pronounced blessing by which our father encouraged us to give new projects a go. His other stock phrase, and for me, perhaps the defining one, was “Open your good eye.”
Open Your Good Eye
Open your good eye. That was my father’s code for telling us there was something we had missed. Some piece of the puzzle we had failed to see. Something we had been in too much of a hurry to take in. Even when we were on the verge of giving up and quitting, of moving on to something else out of frustration, he would rarely point the thing out to us. He would simply say once again, “Open your good eye,” assuring us that what we needed was already there. We just needed to look harder. We needed to slow down and wait for our eyes to see and our brains to sort out the patterns already laid out in front of us.
Opening Your Good Eye in Order to Survive
Naturalists and adventurers know this. Opening your good eye might just be what saves you. I’ve been doing some reading these past few weeks for an upcoming series of Holy Week talks on the theme of Wilderness and have found much to consider in Belden Lane’s 1998 book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. In this book, Lane probes the historical spiritual traditions fostered in wilderness places in tandem with his mother’s progress through the wildernesses of illness and nursing homes.
He gives the example of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who in December of 1935, crashed his plane in the Libyan Desert, but managed to survive for three days and walk 124 miles without water. How did he do it? By opening his good eye. By being “meticulously observant of his surroundings.” He noticed a rare northeast wind bringing in moisture and was able to collect enough dew on his parachute silk to survive.
What We Need Is Already There
Open your good eye. I’m grateful for that early training, for the way my father drilled that into us and made it our go-to praxis. What we need is usually there, spun into the universe by a thoughtful and generous Creator.
We just have to remember to open our good eye.