Monday, 14 October 2013

The Knitting Circle

When I was in the depths of despair last year, I signed myself up for a weekend workshop for beginner knitters. I was so heavily medicated I could barely follow the instructions, but I found it soothing to be sitting in a cosy basement underneath Loop, a lovely old-fashioned knitting shop in Islington. The women were kind and there were biscuits and bottomless cups of tea and I felt safe and cocooned there: something I needed very badly at that point.

Then, as is its wont, life got in the way and my knitting was put aside and over the months I forgot how to do it. Luckily, my friend Loralie, who is much more "crafty" than I, gave up her time this morning to get me back on track. I am now the proud owner of a slightly wonky, very narrow scarf project, and I couldn't be happier. Wish me endurance!

All of this is a very roundabout way of introducing you to one of my absolute favourite authors: Ann Hood. She wrote her first novel in 1987, the year I left home, and over the next four years she wrote four more, all of which I loved. Sometimes we stumble upon an author who seems to voice all the thoughts in our own head, but they have managed to make sense of them somehow and weave them into a narrative that is not our own but somehow helps to clarify our own confusion and make us feel understood at the same time. And so it was with great excitement that I found Ann again after over 20 years.

I was still coming to terms with my diagnosis at that point and was so relieved and grateful that she was back to make sense of it for me. And I was amazed at the synchronicity of The Knitting Circle being about knitting (or so I thought) as I had just signed up for the above-mentioned knitting class! It wasn't until I started reading — which felt just like being back in the company of a long-lost and much-missed friend — that I realised the book was actually about grief.

At first I thought, "Oh, no, I can't read this right now", but I didn't want to put it down. I was enjoying the company of the characters and feeling comforted — which is what finally made me see how much grief I was carrying: grief for the life my heart failure was making impossible, grief for the lack of energy that meant I couldn't do everything I wanted for, and with, my children, grief for the way it was affecting all my relationships in one way or another. I am a giver and I had been firmly relegated to receiving... something I discovered I was not so good at. What else would I lose?

The stories of the women in the book cover all kinds of loss and reading them became cathartic and uplifting. Life carries on and carries us with it in whatever shape we find ourselves, but there is always the possibility that our new and unexpected (and originally unwanted) life will be a better one. A year later, looking back, I can say unequivocally that this is true. While I would, of course, wish to be completely healthy, there are so many lessons I have learned because of my illness that I just wouldn't have learned otherwise and I am grateful for the opportunity to make better choices about my life. I'm sure Ann Hood would approve.

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