When I was seventy-five, I must have done some good in this world because I was rewarded with William John Park III. Bill was eighty.
The story of how we met amuses people, and if you’re very very good, one day I’ll tell it to you.
My husband is an observer. Sees people clearly, deeply. That quality is, I’ve come to believe, part of his being a teacher. The great teachers I’ve known genuinely care about people, want to connect. For example, when Bill’s phone bleeps, after he hears who’s calling, his voice rises as he warmly asks, “How are YOU?” Bill really wants to know how that person is…
On my phone I extend that question pro forma then wait to learn why the person called.
My husband is by nature–Swiss/German heritage–conservative, a mindset with which I had zero experience.* A liberal world view was set at my conception. Every morning walking to grammar school, my mother pulled off her bloomers and hid them under a bush. My father’s best friends were The Marx Brothers.
Felicitously over our twelve years Bill and I have broadened, deepened our points of view. More often than not, I’ve taken his point, he’s taken mine. And no blood spilled. (Not that there haven’t been nicks.) When my wise husband gently held up a mirror to me, I’ve been grateful. Which is not to say I do much about that woman studying me with her unexpectedly wrinkled uneven face…
Bill’s most recent observation is not new.
It sprang from this: I knitted a shawl for someone I adore, a gift honoring a significant achievement. It was a four-months’-long project…the hand-dyed Merino yarn was costly…the finished shawl was, I thought, beautiful, special–suiting the recipient. I was pleased. Excited. But it was an icy-weather garment (she lives in snow country), and I finished in July. “I’ll send it in the fall,” says I to myself, and tucked it away in my study.
Of course, being my study, when I saw a picture of her city icy white, I remembered my gift. Then had to find it. It took a while, but then searching for a ream of canary paper, I found it. Wrapped the shawl in a pretty gift bag with a splendid celebratory card, took it to Fedex, the package was promised to arrive the following Thursday.
From others I heard The Shawlee was in the midst of a critical project, had no time for non-essentials (of course I understood this). So when the significant Thursday–and then the following week-end–came and went without a message or phone call, I stoically stuffed my impatience. And I was proud of myself because I waited another few days to moan and bitch to Bill that I hadn’t heard about The Shawl.
He was a model of patience. “Darling, she’s just…”
Came a week from Thursday, more silence. Checked with Fedex. Delivered as promised.
More weeks passed. I began imagining my package in the cold depths of the apartment building’s mail room. Maybe a rat had been gnawing at it (Merino wool is sweet and pure) and she didn’t want to go near the damn thing.
Having just come off a challenging period myself and finally getting my groove back, I determinedly went about my daily rounds. But I was hurt. Couldn’t help it, I found myself obsessively thinking about my Shawlee ignoring my package. I was, I admit, numb with surprise. Frustration. Incompleteness.
Bill will tell you that The Shawl was much of what I muttered about on our walks, on our drives to and from CrossFit, making his lunch, after playing Wordle, sometimes even during pillow talk.
Over the years, many times Bill has said, “Darling, when you give something, you seem to need a response.” Such an unattractive picture and sometimes I’ve waved the notion away…sometimes hotly denied it. But Bill was 100% on target. I realized that if I’ve sent a special card…taken cookies…done a thoughtful deed, I look forward to its being acknowledged. Nothing gushy, just “Hey, girl, thanks!”
In these twelve years, I’ve admiringly observed that Bill has dispatched countless boxes of See’s Nuts and Chews orArnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad without a moment’s mention later whether he heard from the recipient. That truly made it a gift.
Finally after too many unresponsive weeks when I opened my mouth once more to lament, with uncharacteristic impatience–a force and edge to his voice I’d rarely heard from him–my husband said, “Sylvia, let it go!”
I stopped stock still. “Oh.” Gosh. “Sorry, darling. You’re right, of course. I–”
“It’s as though you have a string attached to your gift…”
Ugly image. “Sorry, darling” wasn’t going to cut it.
I know the genesis of my nonsense. Like many emotional plagues of adulthood, it sprang from unfulfilled needs of childhood.
I went into the kitchen and set myself the steadying task of brewing a pot of tea.
“…as though you have a string attached to your gift…” Really ugly image.
Measuring Ceylon tea into the big blue China pot, pouring water into the electric kettle, I reflected on why I knitted the shawl. How much I love and honor the person I knitted it for. That my accomplishment and (I was sure) her ultimate pleasure would be reward aplenty…
Hey, maybe she’d opened it and hated it! Maybe I’d chosen the wrong colors… Maybe I…
Suddenly a click.
I was done thinking about the shawl. Wasn’t going to think about it or The Shawlee a moment longer. Gnawing rats in the basement or no, it would find its way to her. She’d like it or not. I’d made my caring gesture. If my caring went unappreciated, so be it. I mean, I hadn’t spent hundreds of hours knitting to be rewarded. I’d begun the project out of love, enjoyed the process, and where the shawl–or The Shawlee–landed, was in the laps of the gods.
The string was not just detached, it had vanished.
It occurs to me that the rare experience of my aforesaid months of being knocked off my pins then struggling to find my way back to myself strengthened me for this emotional reset.
How fine it felt.
Reward, recognition, is in the doing. The giving. End of subject.
Took my cup of tea to Bill in his usual perch on the sofa (Mr. Philadelphia calls it the couch). Told him what happened in the kitchen.
Enormous hug. Kisses.
Amazing what the mind and heart can do.
Have I heard about The Shawl?
Had smiling selfies from here and there.. No snow in sight, she was in shorts.
I think next time I knit a gift for someone, I’ll send it anonymously. Let the pleasure of the making be my reward.
Healthy, happy, stringless.
*Reading this to him, Bill said, “You might mention my wild Irish side…”