Doing What We Can, Stitch by Stitch

In talking about how to be a hopeful neighbor in these modern days, it can be easy to get bogged down in the greater turmoil of the world: A global pandemic! Raging wildfires! Starving children! Terrorists! It’s enough to make any sane person want to curl up in a ball and hide under the covers for days on end. And it’s true, life is scary and the world’s problems are many. What can one person do (and does it matter)?

Author Anne Lamott offers some realistic optimism in her book, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair:

“...[M]ost of us have figured out that we have to do what's in front of us and keep doing it. We clean up beaches after oil spills. We rebuild whole towns after hurricanes and tornadoes. We return calls and library books. We get people water. Some of us even pray. Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope. The horror is real, and so you make casseroles for your neighbor, organize an overseas clothing drive, and do your laundry. You can also offer to do other people's laundry if they have recently had any random babies or surgeries. We live stitch by stitch, when we're lucky. If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching. And maybe the stitching is crude, or it is unraveling, but if it were precise, we'd pretend that life was just fine and running like a Swiss watch. That's not helpful if on the inside our understanding is that life is more often a cuckoo clock with rusty gears.”

How does one emerge from the fetal position and become a vibrant and helpful and hopeful member or his or her community? Stitch by stitch, as Anne Lamott would say. Little by little.

It may not be pretty or perfect, but by choosing to get out of bed and step out of our doors and have real face time with neighbors, we can get there. Where? To a place where neighbors know each other and interact in an honest way. To a place where we don’t hide, but we talk and help each other instead. To a place where our neighborhood is our comfy place—our home, both literally and in our hearts.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the world’s problems? Does that make you want to turn inward or turn outward? Would you feel better if you were more comfortable in your neighborhood and with your neighbors? Take a moment to think of a tiny step you can take to make your neighborhood homier, more hopeful. Then move forward with your tiny stitch, no matter how crude it may seem at first.

(Excerpt for this blog from Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair by Anne Lamott, Riverhead Books, 2001.)

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