Maybe you remember a post from last summer, a sun-drenched afternoon on the deck with my girl, a mystery box from a friend in Upstate New York, a bunch of pointy bras, seamed vintage stockings and a couple of spying boys?
It is mid fall now and another box has come.
This time, from Sweden.
My friend Boel sent it after contacting me to ask if I'd be interested in embroideries and handmade linens from the local Pentecostal church's second-hand shop. I'm always game for this so I sent a list of ideas and colors, she responded with photos. On the day Boel visited the church (her name is pronounced BOO-elle), she said the place was filled with refugees shopping for their new homes.
Of course, old Swedish handwork is not useful for these families. They have no connection to this history; their own wounded history is as young as yesterday. They need shoes and pots and winter coats. They need space and shelters that angry people won't set on fire.
In the aisles of that church shop roamed the convergence of so many things:
Lives lived and histories abandoned.
The humanity of making and saving and surviving.
The hoarding, the discarding.
When Boel told the church volunteers she was shipping linens to an Alaskan artist of Swedish descent, they gave her an enormous discount. These ladies had taken the time to remove crocheted edging from worn bedding because this part was still good. The handwork was still beautiful and valued.
It's been raining here and all the trees have lost their leaves. The mornings are dark when the children go to school. My son slipped on black ice in the driveway not 20 minutes ago and hurt his hand. Anchorage is the same latitude as Stockholm, so I can imagine what it is like in Sweden right now; the darkness and the cold inhospitable to people not used to that northern climate. This week I listened to a Syrian doctor burst into tears in an interview on the radio. The man hadn't slept in four days and kept apologizing for weeping. I was in my studio stitching by hand and didn't realized how hard I was crying until the cat came meowing down the stairs to check on me. This doctor said all he could think about were the people he couldn't help if he took time to rest. He said his country was disappearing.
Sometimes we find rusted needles still embedded in old embroideries. Like someone put the work down and just walked away. At one point, the maker had hope and inspiration and will.
But there are a million things that dissolve hope.
80-year-old Greek grandmothers meet boats on the beaches of Lesvos, offering to hold babies and sit for hours with bewildered mothers, purchasing fruit every day for displaced children, and there are days when Alaska feels far away already, but standing in my doorway, signing for a blue box from Sweden, I feel removed and guilty for having so much.
I'm not going to create art about the world's refugees. I'm not going to pretend I have any answers or throw money in a direction that isn't helpful. But I am going to worry for them and continue telling my children stories about what is happening in the world so they understand that having to go to school or to swimming lessons is a privilege, not a torture, and certainly not everyone's right. That somewhere, somebody's art supplies and books and special clothes and animals all got left behind because their family's wellbeing was more important.
And because we can't directly rescue people today, we will rescue some unwanted things -- items that are the remnants of humanity's need to make and do and mark, remnants of resilience and will.
And we'll hold stories in our hearts. And we'll revere history. And mend what we can.
We'll work hard to be kind in this world.
* * *
My friend, Boel Werner, is an artist and a writer. We met in Los Angeles in 2004 at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' annual summer conference and somehow never disappeared from one another's lives. We have one of her books about a pair of red pants that comes to life one night, escapes out the window and flies into the world to have an adventure. Flygarbyxorna is one of our family favorites. I'd hate to ever leave it behind.
But I would.
I would grab my children and I would flee.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.