Yesterday I unpicked a long row of sewing machine stitches in the hem of a monastic robe. Then I tidied up. Removing all the cut threads. Rolled them into a tiny ball. Put them in the compost bucked. As I unpicked, cutting those threads, taking care not to cut into the fabric, my mind started to remember. That’s how it is with memory isn’t it? Ones mind is jogged into remembering by something, or some circumstance, that’s come to the fore. I’d made the robe in Edmonton, Canada, Now which year was that? I’d had a streaming cold. But needed to push on because there was a deadline to meet. I remember my nose dripping onto the fabric as I worked! Now. Where did I buy that fabric? At the market stall in Nottingham…or….? And so it is. Remembering. Remembering and then linking memory upon memory.
This afternoon I whizzed along sewing up the hem again. Neatening. Putting a few more years wear into it. The frayed hem, now zigzagged where it had become frayed. Robe hems drag on stairs, both when climbing and when descending. They brush the ground all day long as the occupant goes about daily business. Already I was plotting my next move for when this robe would come to me for mending in the future. There’s a limit to how much zigzagging one can do before it becomes clear that either new fabric needs to be imported, or a new robe needs to be made. A monk I’ve sewn for in the past reminds me when I meet him. The robe is still going strong! That was 1986. Bullet proof fabric, Bought in the Forest of Dean. Gloucestershire. Amazing how it has lasted. But it’s been worn mostly for best. Even so, cracking good fabric. And so it is. Remembering. Remembering and then linking memory upon memory.
One of my hosts here in Montana sat beside me before lunch silently read the machines instruction manual. While I attempted to worked out where all the controls were, and how to use them. (As a last resort, read the manual!) Then, out aloud. What does neaten mean? I’ve not come across that word before? I thought, REALLY!?. Have I not spent my entire life neatening? Clearing up. Straightening. Making good. Mending. Weeding. Sorting. Trimming. Mowing. Cutting into shape. Neatening and sorting are my pleasure. In home and in garden. At work and at play. Isn’t that the way of things? One word, or a phrase. Give it a tug, like a thread sticking out of a ball of yarn, and memories unreel at lightening speed. And so it is. Remembering. Remembering and then linking memory upon memory.
There is part of the brain that is designated for memory. (See story of HM.) Remove that part and…no memory! (Listen to HM’s story). Or perhaps no capacity to recall memory anyway. We would be completely lost without the capacity to remember. And equally lost if that is all we know. I once said to one of the senior monks, off the cuff, and I was young in training, We are limited only by what we (consciously) know! (Whoops! I thought. Where did that pearl come from?) And he said, pausing thoughtfully, Well you know something important. Hum, that would have been around 1986/7. In the old sewing room. At Shasta Abbey.
There is more to say about memory. About the past coming into the present. There has been a huge amount of that as I’ve been visiting monks I trained with in the 1980’s. And also trainees, many of whom have been at it years longer than me. We have a shared life. It is alive and vibrant. No neatening required!
Yes, I have moved over the land these weeks. This great, vast and beautiful land. But how to tell of the life we bask, swim and have our being within. Together. Seamlessly. Going well deeper than linking memories.
And still the robe hem becomes worn. And asks of us the utmost care. Loving action.
Sorry folks. Posts have been few and far between. I’ve been – mowing, sorting, trimming and hiking as well. This has been so much fun too. And in a couple of days – on the road again.