“There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Wendell Berry, “Given”
Finding sacred places in our world, fortunately, is not hard. These places are everywhere, and Berry reminds us that we have a responsibility to keep them sacred. Learning to see the world around us and to recognize its many faces as sacred is the hard part. What if you live in an urban setting as I do? Among the bricks and mortar, abandoned buildings, cracked sidewalks and crack houses, one can often locate a green sprout pushing through a crack in the sidewalk or a persistent Hackberry tree supporting a crumbling facade. A rotting front porch may be the stage for potted marigolds or geraniums. We discover that the sacred is often nourished by decay.
At our home, we have worked hard to create a natural refuge for the birds, squirrels, raccoons, possum and other critters that make their homes in the city. We plant native flowers such as Echinacea, black-eyed Susan, sunflowers and rudbeckia to enrich and loosen the clay soil and provide seeds in the fall and winter for a flock of finches. Stray cats, squirrels, doves and pigeons are regular visitors to our fish pond, drinking at its edges from spring through winter. Butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and dragonflies are summer regulars.
So what does that have to do with crochet?
When I started making this hat (photo) for a local holiday art boutique, it was in the weeks leading up to the Dayton Literary Peace Prize events, including a conversation with the winning authors. I was thrilled to learn that one of my long-time favorite writers–Wendell Berry–was receiving the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. I wanted my humble work to somehow honor the peace prize winners for their much more significant work as published writers and peace activists. I sought inspiration by reading their words, particularly Berry’s, and thinking of ways to interpret my feelings about his writing and the world I live in. I didn’t want to slap his beautiful words on just any hat–I wanted to make something special. I had to put aside the inner critic suggesting that this type of hat may generate more puzzled looks than sales. So be it.
I happened to have a small bolt of black lace, purchased for just $2 from a wonderful sewing store here in Dayton. The black checked ribbon around the brim came from the same store and by sheer luck mimicked the pattern of the Catholic school uniform I wore for eight years. I had to use it somewhere! The bird charms I have collected over the years because I love how they look (especially crows and ravens) and am inspired by their legendary roles as mischief-makers, gift-givers and prophets. The lace around the crown of the hat reminded me of the lace mantillas we wore over our heads when attending mass at Holy Angels after we were too cool to wear Easter bonnets or church hats. I knew I wanted to use the color red; although it is a “sacred” color in many traditions, I’ve always associated it with the life force responsible for our creativity and transformation. Red, along with the colors of gray and camel, is one of my favorite combinations, even though they could be said to represent earth, sky and fire. But I would be disingenuous if I claimed that now. I’ve learned though that when the inner critic gets out of the way, our uninhibited creative instincts, given full expression, might come up with something genius. Or at least something that pleases us. That’s a gift I’m willing to accept.
Although all of us won’t be writers of great achievement, or activists going to jail, or a person that is honored for displays of compassion and courage, we can all in our own way do no harm. Right livelihood is a Buddhist concept that posits all of us are able to choose activities–including careers–that do not contribute to the war machine or to falsely convincing people to part with their scarce assets in search of the American dream. Crocheting hats, scarves and gloves, adding some words I love, seems harmless enough. I don’t dare think my efforts will make someone’s life better, but they certainly enrich mine.
Thank you for reading this blog. Comments are always appreciated. And if you want to buy this hat or others, visit the Dayton Visual Arts Center during their Holiday ARTtoBUY from now until Christmas. You can also see what I’m up to on Facebook and etsy (Storyline Creations).