I believe in blank canvas.
An avid cross-stitcher, I always look for ways to fill my fabric canvas. This past summer, I found a design with shoes and shopping bags, perfect for a friend’s Christmas present. For the next three weeks, I covered the cloth with the expectation of hearing happy exclamations.
I finished the design on a Tuesday. That Saturday, my friend Rachel, who loved shoes and cats and Thai food, was killed in a car crash.
I wrapped up the finished canvas in a piece of muslin, where it still sits today, garnering not happy cries, but bittersweet intentions. Eventually, I will give it to her mother, who taught Rachel her love of shoes.
My next blank canvas soon became a bright and cheerful alphabet sampler, intended as an announcement for friends who were to adopt a baby. I worked on it every evening in hopes of having it in presentable shape by the time the baby came home. The canvas filled with coos and gurgles.
But two days after the baby was born, the birth mother told them that she was giving her son to someone else.
Half complete but no longer invoking happy sounds, the alphabet sampler was consigned to highest shelf.
And I stopped believing in blank canvases – stupid and superstitious, but the thought of what disasters they might herald made me nearly ill.
December. My favorite sort of stitching has always been Christmas themes, and I found in a deep drawer a kit for tree ornaments, half done. Almost without thinking, I began to stitch.
I knew that my stupid superstition was just that – a stupid superstition. I stitched because it was something to do and something I enjoyed doing. I worked because I needed to tempt fate, to show I wasn’t going to stop.
And because deep down, I needed to believe in blank canvas again.
I had finished four ornaments and started a fifth when I got a phone call. It was one week to Christmas. An aunt of my husband’s, who’d been on the receiving end of several of my stitching pieces, and another car crash, on a dark and windy road in Connecticut.
Your first stitch slants forward, creeping across the canvas to leave a bare impression of color. It’s the second stitch that fills out the bold hues that mark designs. Forward and back, ebb and flow, joy and pain. No project – and no life – is complete without both in evidence.
On Christmas day, home from my second funeral in four months, I began the alphabet sampler again. I had stopped at “A” for anteater. It is two months later, and I am working on “I” for iguana.
I do not know what baby will have his or her name stitched onto the fabric when I am done. It may not be for years yet. But I believe in blank canvases, and when that baby arrives, I believe I will be ready.
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