This is the summer of friends leaving. The far away kind of leaving. I always take it hard when friends move away, because it is right that I feel the slightly jagged edges of the missing pieces in my life. Then life goes on and we settle into new ways of being friends, and our circles of friends grow wider instead of smaller. I know that will happen soon. I'm also certain that all this leaving on top of my mom moving away is a major reason for a certain funky melancholy that has been following me around for the last couple of weeks. I have lots of other wonderful friends of course, and global networks now make distances almost meaningless. I know all that. But they won't be here. And for a little while, it will hurt. Then I'll be okay, really. For now, not so much. Every interaction is tender with what's coming next. Apparently, my need to really feel my tenderness was known to God, and the opportunity came to let my emotions have full sway. It caught me by surprise.
It happened last night at the school band/orchestra concert where one soon-to-move friend's son and my son were both playing. It was terribly hot in that middle-school gym and her little ones were getting tired. I love her kids as much as her and I brought knitting of course. Those two things combined into an unexpected experience that somehow became my moment of "farewell but not goodbye, it's all going to be okay."
The 6 year old is a natural and is always asking to knit ever since I taught her last summer. Trying to distract her from the heat and the length of the concert, I sat her on my lap and let her knit on the plain stockinette sleeve of my sweater. She let me hold her warm hands in mine to guide the occasional recalcitrant stitch, but for the most part, she did it all by herself. The tension left her body, she let her back relax into my side and we sat and knitted together for a good 15 minutes while we listened to the music. It was like homemade strawberry jam-so ordinary but unbelievably special at the same time. I tried to hide my sudden tears-it might be the last such moment with this particular 6-year old. Then the 4 year old wanted her turn, so up she came. She's never done it before, but we worked together, her tiny hands folded into mine, her wrapping the yarn and me pulling it through, step by step, her sweaty little self settled completely into my lap, trusting me to help her make each loop. I played with her hair and fanned her neck with my book and we knitted some more, then she went back to her mom. I was glad my friend was sitting in front of me, looking at the musicians.
I fingered the knitting and looked it over through watery eyes, trying to decide whether to rip it back or not. It was an instant, easy decision. This sweater is for me and yes, there are one or two rounds where the stitches are just a little off the gauge. And I think we did an extra round between increases. But I will always know that two particular sets of hands made those rounds of stitches-see them there? In the left sleeve, about halfway to the elbow. Yes, those uneven ones. I will always remember two little girls wanting to be on my lap for a minute, warm against me, enclosing a little bit of who they are at this moment in the stitches. Somehow, it helped me feel braver about the miles that will soon be between their mom and me.
Some people think homemade strawberry jam is a waste of time, kinda like knitting. But those of us in on the secret know that a few minutes' effort allows us to experience a moment of perfect summer sweetness any time we need it.