In June of last year a friend was very ill and was taken off life support. In the midst of hurriedly attempting to navigate the Ontario medical system through hospital visits, story time, family conversations, and connecting with specialists it seemed there was so much happening around her life at such a fast pace that I was very unsure of what to say or do. Watching her quickly deteriorating health I began to feel powerless in the situation and silence suddenly became my place of refuge, partially forced and partially out of dejection.
In an attempt to remain strong I started forcing faces to cover up my choked back tears and closeted crying from the world. Silence due to stigma, silence due to fear, silence out of respect, silence out of understanding, silence out of sadness, silence out of disbelief. When she died on June 14th 2013 I felt overwhelming despair and guilt for being complacent in my silence. I then began to equate silence with weakness and cowardliness. Silence came to represent images of my failure as a friend and its consequences, the horrific images of her lifeless black female body.
For a long time after her death I shut down and remained quiet. I kept my thoughts to myself, I blocked people out, lost interest and hid my intimate self away out of shame. It was as if I was trapped internally and externally by silence. Wordless-ness came to represent the greater part of the last year for me. I was caught in deep thought reflecting how it was possible that a young black woman could die in Canada under such disgusting circumstances. I was disillusioned to start thinking about Ontario health institutions as sites of structural violence against black bodies, in the case of my friend not only did they contribute to limiting her access to specialized care as a living being, but they also affected whether or not she got to die with dignity. It was heavy thinking about the broader political and economic contexts that contributed to her death, and I was pissed the phuck off. Her truth was tangled up in medicalized rationalizations of her death and entirely glazed over the larger health inequities that exist in our society, especially for poor racialized womyn.
It wasn't until March of this year when I was at two day retreat that things started to change. I remember being hyper aware of not wanting to say a word to anyone and feeling intensely awkward inside of myself. Whenever we were asked to speak or even just in causal conversation my heart would race. I would feel my heart pumping in my chest, my eyes would fill with tears and I'd develop this hard dry lump in my throat. On the second day of the retreat we were asked to participate in an activity. We were asked to write a word on a piece of paper based on how we felt and move around the room and explain to others why we had chosen that word. I had chosen silence, but I couldn't speak, I just cried. Openly in the arms of a gentle stranger I finally felt peaceful, like I was able to mourn the loss of my friend and the sadness+anger I felt around the circumstance in which she died. It was like coming out of the closet. I realized that my silence was a way of being compassionate with myself, to slowly try and understand and reflect on everything that happened at my own pace. Silence is the opportunity to be with my thoughts, and be within myself in a way that does not involve verbal communication. In that moment silence and compassion gently became intertwined and I was finally able to step outside of myself and gain a different perspective of death, mourning and loss and the realities of structural violence. The initial fear of exploring death and lifting the veil to reality is something that without silence I would not have been able to experience and learn from. The process of turning death to memory through reflection and crochet opened up a space to think critically about inequity and the intersections of class, race and gender. So to my friend gone too soon in life and death you have given me strength to be courageous and act with compassion. You have helped to redefine what community is and how to keep people in our community especially those whose voices are not prioritized. You have taught me the difference between passive and active silence and have opened up a space within me to be able to reflect on how to work advocate for change critically and with love.
So remember Polar Vortex? I dunno about y'all, but last winter was something fierce and I learned a harsh (and freezing) lesson. So I felt compelled to be thoroughly prepared in case we get glazed over with ice again! I made this fall inspired ruffled green, brown and yellow cowel with different kinds of acrylic blended yarn from this pattern on Crochet N' Crafts. I love it! I used about 5 skeins of yarn for this and it took roughly a day to finish making. The shell stitch is really great cause it gives a bobble/ribbed kind of look when complete and it adds for extra warmth! I love making things that reflect the turn of seasons, to me they are metaphors for the different kinds of transitions we make in life and the preparations we make for coming change; whether they be crocheting a cowel to keep warm or making mental and emotional preparations in silence to inform how we support each other, I am in the process of learning to move forward in ways that make sense to me and speak to my lived experiences as well as the lessons learned alongside the people I have grown with.
Ruffle Infinity Cowel
%100 Acrylic Blend
Many smiles :)