“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”–Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
Today’s the day she leaves and, as often happens, I wish I’d appreciated her more while she was here.
Pat’s 80-something years old–on the outside. On the inside, she’s a free-thinking, free-spirited 18-year-old, always involved, always active, gregarious, not afraid of something new. The proof is in the very fact that she’s leaving town and already making plans for the new phase of her life.
Pat has been a member of the Prayer Shawl Ministry at our church even before I took over as coordinator. She knits, I crochet, and everyone drools over the beautiful shawls she brings to our meetings.
In she walks, big grin on her face, a hi for everyone, knitting bag in her hand, her snow-white hair clipped in the latest style, her clothes all matching and her jewelry matching those. When Pat arrived, I could forget about the agenda I had planned for the meeting. Everyone crowded to see what she brought, oohing and aahing and talking and wishing they could knit as well.
At our last meeting–the very last one for her–it was a sampler shawl made up of knitted blocks, each done in a different pattern in pastel colors. Those who knit will appreciate the fact that each of those blocks, despite the different stitches and patterns, were exactly the same size.
Once the meeting business has been taken care of, we sit down to a stint of knitting, crocheting, praying–and talking. But Pat didn’t just talk, she told stories. She always had a tale to illustrate whatever subject we may have landed on.
Then, when it was time to have our completed shawls blessed at Mass, Pat was one of the members I always knew would show up. There she sat, should to shoulder with me and whoever else came, pleased to be part of the ministry, happy to share her prayer and her care in such a tangible way.
Pat and her husband are moving to a retirement community in a town nearer their two children. At the open house held for them to wish their long-time friends and community farewell, I saw another side to Pat. I heard about how she volunteered for a group that raises money to send women to college; how she spent long hours at the hospital as a member of the auxiliary; how she became one of the first volunteers at the Maritime Museum, even though she didn’t know a lot about boats or local marine history. It was a job that needed doing, so she did it, then gladly stepped aside when more knowledgeable people stepped forward.
At home, she operated a successful sewing business, doing alterations and special sewing for customers for many years. “Dismayed” is a mild word to describe their feelings about her departure.
“But where will we bring our sewing?” they wailed.
“I guess you’ll have to find someone else,” Pat told them. She’s very caring, but very practical, too.
During her introduction to the retirement community, the activities director outlined the card games and card tournaments that would be available. I can just see Pat’s deadpan stare.
“No,” she told the woman. “No card games.”
There won’t be a new sewing business, either. After decades of dealing with customers, she’s ready, finally, to do only the fun stuff she loves.
She hopes to start a Prayer Shawl Ministry in the center, or at least in her new parish. And she’ll out-knit all of them, all the while laughing, telling stories, and showing up at every meeting because this is the kind of ministry, and she’s the kind of person, that gets things done.
That kind of enthusiasm I’ll miss, along with her optimism, her sense of humor, and her common sense. Why did I wait so long to look beyond her knitting bag?