Members of my family will instantly know what I mean when I talk of Aunty Joan’s patchy blankets. These were lovingly created from fabric scraps and lined with brushed cotton. If I remember correctly, each niece or nephew had one and I treasured mine. Even now – perhaps especially now – I hope the burglar who stole it is still enjoying it, and I miss its warmth and comforting sense of familiarity. More than ever before, it’s symbolic of my life right now. A life in pieces but a reminder of the something beautiful that comes when you piece together what remains to create something wonderfully new.
Those patchy blankets were at the heart of growing up. They went everywhere with us, even camping out rolled up under a thorn tree at the weir on the farm. That’s a tale in itself. Each was unique, of course, but without the rigid though striking ordered patterns of traditional quilts. Though not quite crazy patchwork, either, they were made of neatly tripped squares and rectangles – a truth which perfectly summed up Aunty Joan’s personality. A place for everything, and everything in its place…
Still, they provided endless fascination as we identified which scrap belonged to which dress and which cousin wore it first. Captured in that simple though time-consuming piecework was a whole lotta love, and we knew it. We never ‘saw’ the pieces, we only saw the ‘life’ measured in each. We saw and enjoyed the something beautiful that was woven out of scraps many people would simply discard.
It’s nearly six months now since I was first diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis. For a long time, I found myself trapped in a place of darkness and desperate struggle. I lost sight of the little pieces of something beautiful amongst the wreckage that once was my life. There were many times when I wished I could simply sweep them all into the trash and be done with it. Giving up seemed so much easier than gathering them up and remaking them. I never fully understood the debilitating effects of this terrible disease until I had to claw my way back to life.
Thankfully, I inherited a good dose of 1820 settler dogged determination. It’s the kind that digs its heels in and develops a fondness for finger gestures in the midst of the raging storm. Those early South African pioneers survived the ‘no matter what’ life with a mixture of humour and courage that set them apart. They epitomise the message in those patchy blankets. It’s not so much about not wasting even the smallest scraps, though frugality certainly came into it. Rather, it was that everything has value, the potential to be something beautiful.
The other message, of course, is that something made of scraps is enduring. Those blankets are still around today, many years later. The next generation may not know the individual garments that went into them. But they have the something beautiful in the memories made around them. Scraps don’t have to be fragile, though on their own, they may seem brittle and worthless. Woven together, they contain an enduring strength that will remain long after the struggle is over.
That, for me, is the single-minded purpose of life from now on. I cannot change what happened, but I can change what I do with it. And what I allow it to do to me. As I rebuild my life in pieces, it will no doubt be a crazy patchwork. That’s who I am – crazy enough to refuse to die, even when it’s expected. I will create something beautiful, something strong and enduring. Something those who come after can look at and draw courage and inspiration from. The pieces of my life, tattered and damaged as they are right now, have the potential to touch those around me.
Living is possibly the most creative thing we can ever do. It’s the craziest, most wonderful, and often poignant journey, and every tiny piece is the makings of something beautiful.