Rilke’s Book of Hours, Love Poems to God- translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
I am making a dress. It is hand-stitched in its entirety and composed of deep violet fabric, gunmetal grey beads, and blue and grey threads. Coral and circular shapes serve as its embellishment. The pattern is drawn from another woman’s soulful, creative work.* The techniques are hers as well, reminders of the handwork I loved as a child. I will wear it during two self-crafted occasions, one at the ocean and the other by a river. I believe the dress symbolizes both an ending and a beginning---or perhaps neither one. It’s possible that it is an attempted reconciliation of all the endings and beginnings that came before it. A present act formed by a past memory.
There was a large seashell in my grandparents’ farmhouse. It was creamy white in color, tinged with the palest pink. It often resided at the foot of the staircase, where the banister railing ceased. It was on days similar to today, when the summer heat was almost unbearable and the chorus of cicadas nearly deafening, that I would pick the shell up, hold it to my ear, and silently listen. As the quiet rush of air issued forth, I became mesmerized by its hushed, continuous tone. I don’t know why the sound resonated so deeply within me, whether it represented a respite from the brutal summer heat or a haven far from the small town where my existence seemed awkward and ill fitted. Nevertheless, I longed for the imagined body of water from which it came, a place far-removed from my daily reality.
At the time, my visits to the ocean were imaginary ones, supplied by the books I read and films I viewed. In my mind, I would reside with the characters in oceanfront cottages, adopting an illusory life played against the backdrop of the sea. As years passed, my imagined life was interrupted by increasing adult realities, dotted with a few brief sojourns to the ocean. It was during one of these, a trip as rushed and chaotic as the life I was living, that I found what I had long sought. Amidst a living canvas of glistening grey, blue, and violet, I discovered a still point, where my frenzied thoughts became quietly suspended, replaced instead by a seemingly sacred silence. From this simple, evocative moment has come the making of this dress, a return to the ocean, and a sacred vow renewal.
I sometimes wonder if, as children, we are given allusions for our future growth and healing. Perhaps they are scattered before us, in the simplest of forms, like a creamy white seashell at the foot of a staircase. Then later, when any trace of their remembrance is dimmed by adulthood, they reemerge in their truer guise, imparting their intended message. Conceivably, the only requirement made of us is our own attentive desire.
*The woman I refer to is Natalie Chanin, founder and head designer of Alabama Chanin, (www.alabamachanin.com). From the moment I stumbled upon her first book, I have been an avid admirer. While my current efforts will not approach the artistic beauty realized by this company’s artisans, I am most grateful for their inspiration and spirit of sharing.