I found this while I was cleaning out one of my closets. It was inside a folder, in the bottom of a gigantic nylon knitting bag. There were many other sheets just like it, some of them far less readable. They belonged to my grandmother, who died in January of 2002. She was ecstatic when I learned how to knit, and only slightly less happy than when she found out that I’d learned how to play bridge. “It will bring you a lifetime of joy,” she said, to both the bridge and the knitting. I stopped playing bridge right after college, so I can’t really confirm her claim about that one.
The above pattern is for a sweater sleeve. None of the other patterns in the folder seem to match it, but I’m still tempted to knit it. The worn state of the paper, my grandmother’s unmistakable handwriting, and the unexpected manner in which I found it all give this pattern an otherworldly quality. It’s as if I had reached back through time and into my grandmother’s knitting bag. Knitting these sleeves would give me the same strange sensation, and it’s almost too much to refuse.
Almost. The truth is that I never liked any of my grandmother’s sweaters. She once knit a cabled pullover for me that ended many inches lower than my waist, and with a vareigated yarn whose color scheme could only be described as tropical. It went straight to the back of my sweater drawer, where it stayed until my father asked me if he could have it. I gladly handed it over, relieved that the sweater would get some use. A few years later, when my grandmother asked me whether I still wore that sweater, I did what any adoring grandson would do. I lied.
I’ve knit more than a few items for friends and family now, but I’ve developed a policy thanks to this incident with my grandmother: I never, never, never ask a recipient if they wear something I’ve knit for them. It’s an unfair question, to both the knitter and the knittee. If your knittee doesn’t wear his/her item, s/he is now in the position of considering whether to lie to you. You, as the knitter, have opened yourself up to grave disappointment and the possibility that the time, energy, and money you put into knitting that item have been wasted. Neither of you deserves this.
And so, my grandmother–a New York Jew–inadvertently taught me that one of the biggest lessons of Buddhism is the same as the biggest lesson of knitting: nonattachment. Stitches drop, scarves unravel, sweaters sit in the back of closets, collecting dust. Every stitch I knit will eventually come undone, every completed item is a meditation on impermanence. There are lots of good reasons to knit. One of the best reasons is that it forces me to let go.