I’ve been knitting another child’s hat for the Carol’s Coats project for next Christmas. As I dug around in my metal tin of knitting supplies—needles, markers, crochet hooks, small scissors, cable stitch holders, a tangerine-sized magnifier, pom-pom makers—looking for something, my eyes fastened on a small red plastic item, the size of a silver dollar, that I’d completely forgotten about. My heart paused a beat as a floodgate of memories spilled open.
I stared at the knitting row-counter that Sister Mary Sullivan gave me years ago. Attached to the circular gadget was a memory that rose powerfully into my mind. I slid back in time to sit in a circle of ten women at The Cenacle, Mary’s religious home on Long Island, NY. Other Cenacle sisters as well as parish women sat in our group as Mary gave instructions about knitting a pretty lacy pattern. I had traveled from VA to visit my nearby family and attend Mary’s workshop.
Mary gave us knitting needles, a ball of yarn, typed instructions, and a row counter. When she finished her lesson, we began to silently knit. Then someone asked a question. Another woman quietly answered. More silence followed. Then a woman shared a knitting tip that I do not recall, yet today clearly hear her kind sharing.
We knit for about an hour in this silence which had transformed into sacrosanct for me, interspersed with periodic comments, questions, and wise women sharing their knitting wisdom. I soon felt embraced in a timeless activity: creating something useful with my hands amid peers in a sacred circle.
As I write about this treasured time with Mary, I’m reminded of Lisa Shirah-Hiers’ Opening Remarks at the Story Circle Network National Conference in 2010:
The circle is feminine. Women understand it on a very deep level. We gather, we encircle the one who is crying, the one who is ill, or giving birth, or dying. We understand the power of the circle, of coming together, the wisdom of sharing, the necessity of connection, the strength in softness, in curves, in arches, in roundness. That deep, unconscious archetype is part of our feminine heritage, our collective memory. It is the source of our unique strength.
By the end of the afternoon, I left feeling rich connections with the women I’d met for the first time. I also felt deep gratitude to Mary for her gift to us: the creation of a mystical circle where we could experience the ancient custom of women gathering.
Mary completed her circle of life in 2011. A long time member of my Story Circle Network online writing circle, as well as facilitator of her own writing circle, Mary generously shared personal stories that let us know the real, the delightful, the complex, and the very human woman who resided for five decades in simple religious garb.
Mary always signed her emails this way: love you, dear one – me, r.c.
Today I’m feeling so grateful to the little stitch-counter that re-opened such a sweet memory. Love you, too, Mary Sullivan, r.c.