I don’t know how long I’ve sat here, fingers on the keyboard, unmoving. There is so much to say, that I can’t seem to say anything. The vice around my heart and stomach has spread to my tongue and hands. How do I write it, and write it well? How do I honor the best and worst, both? I have sat here like this, countless times, over more than a year, and written nothing. Today I cannot walk away. This quilt began in heartbreak but ended in hope – a cycle we all live frequently, I believe. So, today, because I feel heartbreak but NEED hope, I’m sharing my Living A Prayer Quilt.
There was a moment in 2019 that is burned into my memory. I knew, in the moment, that I would never forget it. It’s an image of one of my children in what felt, at the time, like a tragic moment. And while we got through it, and have since lived through much better and much worse, somehow this moment was a visual representation of ALL of it. If I was a painter, I would have run for my brush and splashed dark colors across a huge canvas. But I am a quilter, so I started sewing instead. And every time the anxious worry returned, I made another block. (I do that a lot now.)
You know the difference between the hard things you keep private at home, and the public life you live outside, or the life others perceive you to live. We all have hard stuff, and, appropriately, not all of it is for sharing. Some of it is just our private struggle to work through. But sometimes that private struggle takes us to deep, dark places, particularly if it involves mental health, addiction, or personality/development/behavior disorders. I have come to call it “the ocean beneath”, because we may see the surface of it, but have no real idea how deep it goes or what exactly goes on down there. Unless we’re in it, for ourselves or for someone we love.
In this quilt, the dark red blocks represent what goes on beneath the surface. I chose the colors to represent pain, urgency, heaviness, darkness, discouragement. They are set on point, to depict the edgy, prickly nature of it in comparison to the neat stacking of the pastel blocks above. It’s dimensions are a little disproportional – too narrow for how long it is. I did this to convey the depth of hard places. Several fabrics appear in both the top and bottom sections, to depict the back and forth of life. The seam where the two settings and color schemes meet represents the threshold of my home.
The pastel blocks represent the person I appear to be when I’m at the grocery store, greeting a friend, being part of my community, etc. They also represent the lives I am tempted to compare mine to, which seem to be tidy and pretty. There is definitely urgent and serious challenge in that world (alluded to in the darker red pieces on the right in the top pastel blocks), but it appears to me that problems are dealt with more quickly and effectively without the added muddle of mental health and other similar issues.
I want to live in the pretty pastel blocks. But the truth is, real life is BOTH. For all of us, no matter what our challenges are. The ocean may go deeper for some, but we all know this duality. A friend of mine, who deals with a personality disorder in her family, does not speak freely of the challenge because it would mean betrayal to her loved one. Sharing the burden would destroy a precious relationship so she focuses on the positive and on what she can control. She is not pretending all is well; she is doing her best in difficult circumstances. It stings when people say to her, “I wish my family was like yours. Your life is so amazing.” They are comparing their deep dark places to the pretty pastel blocks they can see.
Sometimes I look at this quilt and think “that pretty world is VERY far away right now”. Sometimes when I’m out in that world I feel like a stranger there, and wonder if people can see it. But I belong there, just like you do. I have to just do my best. One day my friend asked me, “Am I living a lie?” My heart ached at the sadness in her voice. And somehow, before the words were in my head, they were out of my mouth, “NO. You’re living a prayer.”
It’s true. She’s living a prayer. It’s an act of faith to get up, go out in the world and function in healthy, happy ways. It’s also good practice. So this quilt is titled Living A Prayer. I made it to work through the contradictions and sadness in my own life. I made it for my friend. And I made it because, no matter what our ocean looks like, we can make it. We must. The Living a Prayer quilt is a quilt about heartache. It’s also about faith, believing in good things to come. Be grateful for the lessons your ocean teaches you. Use them to serve others. Get on your knees. Pray with all the energy of your heart, for guidance, faith, mercy, strength, grace. Then get up and go to work. Believe in better days ahead. LIVE YOUR PRAYER.
I’m right there with you.