I love January. I love how fresh and unmarked it is, how full of promise. Every time I see the perennial image of the old year, long-bearded and tired, turning into a baby-faced new year, I am fortified again with the notion that life can change, the world can change, everything is renewable.
I can only remember one new year when I could not seem to muster a lot of hope: the January after September 11, 2001. I was still holding at bay a quiet sense of despair about the world, about the seemingly endless need human beings have to hate one other. I was struck to the core by the deep fracturing of the human family, the long, painful divides. On New Year’s Day, I copied down Emily Dickinson’s perfect words: Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the heart and sings the tune and never stops at all. I wanted to believe that. I wanted to hear that enduring song again.
Hope did return, primarily because I have a friend who, in the aftermath of September 11, got it in her head to do something so extraordinary, so completely moving, that it was impossible not to hope.
My friend’s name is Terry Helwig. I met her twenty-two years ago at a writers’ lunch and a remarkably soulful friendship was born. Over the years we’ve worked, played, cried, dreamed and shopped together. And on occasion, been Lucy and Ethel together (I am particularly thinking of the time we were hijacked by two elderly, black-clad widows in Greece, who dragged us off the street and held us captive in their house with octopus sandwiches and tearful stories of their kaput husbands, until we wised up and bought extravagant amounts of their homemade lace doilies).
After September 11, Terry also floundered for a while trying to keep her sense of hope about the world in tact. Then one day, she had an inspiration. What if tens of thousands of people from all over the world sent individual threads that would be woven into a vast world cloth? Some say the world is hanging by a thread, she told me. But maybe a thread is all we need.
It was a daunting vision. I mean, where do you even begin with an idea like that? The answer, of course, is with one thread. Then two, then three.... I went digging through a chest of old keepsakes and clipped the satin ribbon from one of my daughter’s baby booties and tied it to an old, yellowed shoelace from my own baby shoe. This became my thread. In my mind it suggested all the wobbly, infant steps we must take toward a new way of being human, toward this vision my friend has of mending the world. We had a small ceremony in which I tied my thread to Terry’s and her family’s threads, and to the threads of a group of friends. Afterward, Terry wound the strands into a humble little ball the approximate size of an avocado seed.
From that tiny kernel, Terry’s international and ambitious The Thread Project, One World, One Cloth came into being. For the past three years, she has been gathering a single thread from thousands of people around the world, over 50 countries so far. The threads are being handwoven into seven cloths , each measuring about 12 by 7 feet. When assembled all together, these vast tapestries will create an historic and encompassing World Cloth.
So far, three of the cloths have been completed. They were woven by over 20 weavers in places like Delhi, India; Santiago, Guatemala; Poros, Greece; and Charleston, SC. Each cloth has a name: Hope Materializing, Threaded Harmony, Ariadne’s Prayer. The fourth cloth, which is being woven now, will bear the name Weaving Reconciliation.
When you stand in the presence of these cloths it is like stepping into the epicenter of hope. The cloths inspire a sense of how potent and majestic a symbol can be when it erupts from the great heart of the people of the earth. It is very possible that these cloths are the most diverse tapestries ever woven. Aesthetically they are intricate and beautiful to look at, genuine works of grassroots art. But most of all, they are contemporary parables that speak powerfully about unity amidst diversity, about tolerance and hope and compassionate community.
Thousands of stories, as well as threads, are woven into the cloths. You wouldn’t believe the amazing sorts of threads people send:I offer this fiber I found on the Killing Fields in Cambodia; I dedicate it in memory to all who died there. Erin.
This thread comes from the outfit my newborn daughter wore home from the hospital. Kelli.
This is from my baseball glove. Sam.
This scrap of orange fabric was unraveled from the blouse of my friend, Quita, who died at 95. Lynne.
These threads are grasses from Africa. Emily.
Fishing line, guitar string, a kite tail, and hair ribbons have been woven into the cloths. Terry has received fibers from a protective garland in India, threads from a school in China, a shoe-lace belonging to a murdered son that was sent by his mother, a rubber band worn during chemotherapy, hand-spun yarn from Chile, strips of cloth from Greek children, a fragment of a dog collar. In many ways, the World Cloth is a talking cloth, reverberating with individual narratives that blend into one single story of people tying their lives to the human family.
When all seven world cloths are completed and assembled, Terry hopes they will find a permanent home where people can come to experience the cloths’ power and to reflect on the meaning of hope and global community. I think these cloths would hang very nicely in the United Nations, don't you? she asked me not long ago.
So that’s my friend and her luminous vision. I thought this January you might want to send a thread to her, too, and weave your life into the World Cloth. Take a look at Terry’s website: www.threadproject.com, which will tell you how to go about sending threads. If you are a weaver, or know of a weaver who would like to weave one of the remaining 28 panels, you can contact email@example.com. And Terry tells me that The Thread Project is now accepting proposals to exhibit one or more of the 11 1/2' x 7' cloths. If interested, you can write to Terry@threadproject.com.
Here’s what I know at the threshold of 2005: The world needs this cloth. It makes the beautiful thing with feathers sing again.
I cannot call myself a poet with a straight face. The fact is, I still have to swallow first when I call myself a novelist. I do write poems, though, once in a great while. They well up from a mysterious place, usually prodded to life by an intense feeling of some sort. The poem below came to me in response to The Thread Project.
I’ve never let anyone read my poems; I am, frankly, shy about them. But then a year ago when Terry held a ceremony of blessing for the second cloth, she asked me to speak, and to my surprise I decided to stand up and read my poem, A Thread is so Slender. Now, I am down right stunned at myself for self-publishing the poem here. But poems, great ones, and even small ones like mine, are meant to be set loose.A Thread is so Slender
by Sue Monk Kidd
A thread is so slender
Yet here I am with one strand of ferocious hope
Afraid it is the last thread
Hanging from the torn seam of the earth,
Afraid we have finally gone and pulled it,
The blue-green world, unraveling like a ball of yarn
into the spheres.
Still I go on holding this thread.
I love the daring inside it
How it is always beginning.
It talks to the humblest thing in me:
Why don’t you risk everything for hope?
What if one gives birth to two, and two gives birth to three?
Does the universe dwell in a pumpkin seed?
A thread is so slender
It is a beam of light no bigger than a wire, yet
it holds so many suns,
The way a drop of fire contains the whole inferno.
What if it is a fiber of God just floating about?
What if it harbors inside it the very tapestry that will save us?
A thread is so slender.
It hides in plain sight in the corners of my kitchen,
subverting the domestic morning.
I catch it riding currents in the backyard
like a child gone to play.
But back again, curled on my pillow for the night
pregnant by some small piercing of hope.
We are always having this conversation.
I say: Stretch the world upon a loom,
Let kindness be our warp, gentleness our woof.
May we never tire of this back and forth,
back and forth,
The daily shuttle of loving each other.
There are visions shining in our fingers,
And we will not cease.
We will expand to this moment.
Here is what the thread tells me:
I believe in the loom.