My mother knits slippers. I’m one of six children (yes, just like the Brady Bunch – I’m Cindy) and I love my mother’s slippers. When I come home, I put them on. I don’t put on shoes until I have to. Knitted slippers are comfortable, warm, travel well and slide over the kitchen floor in a satisfying ice-skating-without-the-broken-ankle kind of way. Also they connect me to my mom.

Last October my mother was re-diagnosed with breast cancer. After surviving (beautifully) for twenty years, her cancer returned in a number of organs. It’s serious enough that chemo is a way of life now, not a temporary treatment. I’m fortunate enough to live just 45 minutes away from her and to have the freedom to spend weekends with her on a regular basis.

I realized one day that if the slippers were going to continue, someone was going have to learn to knit in my generation. So, over one of my weekends, she taught me how to carry on this tradition.

I started with a scarf or two and moved up to the slippers slowly. Over the last year, knitting has become a tremendous gift to me. It’s relaxing, creative, meditative, and comforting all at once. I knit while watching TV, while waiting for my flight (yes, you can take knitting needles on flights again) and sitting in the back of the room at large gatherings.

I knit with Mom whenever I can. We talk, she tells me stories about her childhood; we talk about my brothers and sisters and the changes in their lives, and we talk about me and my plans, the community of sisters I live with that my mom has adopted as her slipper recipients each Christmas.

Turns out there are lots of other benefits from knitting. Knitting is a health booster as it slows down your heart rate, relaxes the body and gets creative juices flowing. When I knit, I don’t snack my hands are already active. That’s a health benefit too!

Whenever I’m knitting in public something interesting happens. Someone, usually a young adult, but sometimes a child or an older person, asks me what I’m making and after we chat for a bit, the comment comes it’s predictable, “I wish I could do that.”

What’s missing for them, sometimes, is someone to teach them. Knitting is an age-old craft, one that has been handed down through generations. Typically done by women, often men find it just as meaningful. Is it a lost craft? I don’t think so. Recently I read that Julia Roberts, Winona Rider, Hilary Swank among others have taken up knitting. It’s “cool” to knit, it seems.

Knitting is tradition. When I knit I feel connected not only to my mom, but to the women in my family who came before. When I was a child, my grandmother knitted afghans for all six of us. After a house fire destroyed some of them my great Aunt Liz replaced them with new ones. I keep that red afghan on my bed to this day. I think now what a gift it will be when I’m able to knit afghans for my nieces and nephews. Connecting the generations, connecting to the past and feeling rooted in the family tradition are benefits I get from this ancient task.

Many young adults, like me, are yearning for tradition. Feeling connected to that which came before, that which roots us in faith and community is a human desire. For a generation that has never known (experientially) anything but a post Vatican II Catholic Church, reaching back into the tradition for meaningful practices and prayers can be seen as an effort to appropriate our ancient richness.

What we need are people who will sit and talk and share stories and practices. Like my mom who shares herself and her life with me as we knit and purl together, we need companions on the journey willing to take the time to sit down and talk and share the richness they’ve experienced while listening to how we put in words what we hope for the tradition too.

The tradition of our faith is a gift we share. A gift we bring to life when we build upon the past in the new generations. The memories are rich and will be richer still if we take the time to share them together and knit new ones in on the way.

Good Grounds column for the San Francisco Catholic Newspaper
November 22, 2002