Pandemic Knitting as a Radical Act

Let’s face it. Knitters gonna knit. But we’ve never needed knitting more in our lives than this very moment.

The wonderful Elizabeth Zimmerman once said, “Knit on with confidence and hope through all crises.” Amen, sister.

I’ve taken her words as my mantra since the pandemic began and I’ve held on to them through the death of George Floyd and the reshaping of our country that’s resulting now, and even through my father’s recent confused and frightened tour of his neighborhood with his walker, wondering where he lives and how he can get back there. Knit on with confidence and hope.

Why?

Because sometimes the only thing we can do is to bring peace within ourselves.

Soto Zen Buddhists sit shikantaza–or zazen–has a way of acknowledging the present moment, of being fully present to the world. This passive act of sitting is actually a radical act; it acknowledges the truth of everything and everyone. To sit zazen doesn’t mean you’re exempt from helping others, of healing others, of taking a stand. To sit zazen is to acknowledge that we are in a both/and world. We can sit with the world as it is and we can work to change it. But first we must sit.

On some level, I feel the same about knitting, although I know the metaphor is imperfect. What I mean is: in the present turmoil, I’ve felt hopeless, unable to do much to make a difference, and afraid. And I’ve found that taking up my needles has helped me reground myself and has brought me a measure of peace and clarity so that I can act.

I don’t think I’m alone in that.

There is something in the act of knitting and crochet, that stitch after stitch after stitch, that calms the mind, that reassures, and that says, you are here in this moment doing what you can do. In the next moment, you may do something else, but in this moment, knit on. After all, right action stems from right mind.

Seen from this vantage point, pandemic knitting–as passive as it may appear–may be a radical act.

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