Just over a year ago, Butterscotch made a radical proposal. You knit, she said. Knit a baby blanket for the hospital over yonder, blotting out the sun to our south and west.
Tata: What? No. I’m a wretcherous knitter. I knit for lonesome cats, who do not care that I lack skill and of course it’s all about me. Wait, why are you doing this?
Butterscotch: Some people have babies and no blankets. It would be nice if we could send home every baby with a blanket.
Tata: How many babies are born there every month?
Butterscotch: I don’t know.
Tata: Do you have some sense of how many infants are born into poverty in that hospital?
Tata: So you and that group of nice people with yarn fixations in common are knitting indiscriminately for people who may not need your help, but also for people who may not have anything at all?
Butterscotch: That’s our plan.
Tata: I gotta mull over this one.
Despite what we see in Washington budget fights that leave the poor, sick, elderly and vulnerable high and dry, lots of people are motivated to help strangers. People are doing projects everywhere and it can be tricky to find a way to contribute to the common good without feeling like one is being conned. Some projects are presented with uncomfortably vague aims like Make a child smile. That is a project that probably doesn’t need doing. I don’t know about you, but I’m not leaving the house for that. The best thing for a perplexed prospective volunteer to do is find an existing organization with established aims and auditable balance sheets and join in. Maybe a good-deed-doer ladles green beans at the soup kitchen. That’s a good thing to do and can be done in March or July, probably with greater ease than in December, when all the other good-deed-doers try to horn in on the deed-doing action. Hey! Good deeds don’t even need holiday-based timetables. On any given Thursday night, a person could volunteer to ladle green beans.
But there’s more to it, because when we do good-deedery that doesn’t need doing, we create stuff and ill-feeling that we’d might be better off without. Say I decide my local women’s shelter needs new curtains because I just learned how to make curtains on my shiny new Singer Sewing Machine and I want to take that bad boy for a few blistering laps. So I make curtains and discover no one will tell me where the shelter is and I’ve no place to put my good will, let alone those pink gingham formal drapes. This is about me and not about what someone else needs. A little research at the beginning would have helped me create something someone needed, but now I have hostility-fortifying and bank account-draining clutter.
Yes, I’m being a little harsh. Yes, I’m the crazy person who’s been knitting cat blankets for nearly two years and could anyone need 100 rectangles of unevenly knotted yarn? I don’t know, but I trust Georg to tell me when enough is enough, if enough could be enough, if blankets even contribute anything to the common good. I worry about that. Back to Butterscotch: parents of newborns who don’t have blankets need a lot of help, of a kind I can’t offer. They need a pile of money for food and medical care and transportation and furniture and clothing and supplies and safe spaces and good advice and rest and quiet and all of this is what we picture when we imagine a birth. In America, more than half the population has that and can provide the essentials. Maybe Butterscotch’s blankets gather dust in a pile in a hospital closet, I thought, or maybe they go to people who have April-fresh plenty waiting at home for them. What were the odds that this project accomplished anything at all? I didn’t know and went on my way. This is of course all about me.
I know. You’re shocked.
Being judged on something I haven’t developed much skill at goes right to the core of my insecure wussiosity. I couldn’t knit something people would look at because people I don’t know would see how inadequate I was. Boy, was that stupid, because people who do know me cope with that every day. Thing is: figuring that out freed me to try it, so I knitted up a baby blanket. It took a million years and the product of all this knitting and fretting, while soft and potentially cozy, is the kind of thing you accidentally leave on the bus and forget about promptly. To my profound surprise, the object itself just wasn’t a big deal.
The thing is that when Miss Sasha was born, I had nothing. No food, no safe place to live, no furniture, no baby clothes or supplies, no money – not even cab fare home. A lot of people helped me, some of whom I never met, some I should remember but don’t, some I can never repay. So I made a second blanket and then a third and gave them, through existing organizations, to people who could use a little warmth. Probably.
A month ago, Butterscotch asked if I’d participate this year. Though I have doubts about what the project accomplishes, I said I would. Yesterday, Butterscotch sailed up the sidewalk in a windstorm, picked up the blanket and sailed off again. Inspiration, as you know, is the breath of the gods.