~This essay first appeared in North American Review (2008).
Knit. Click click. Purl two. Click click. Knit. Click click. Purl two. Click click. When the tiny metal tapping grew louder than Lydia’s voice, I knew I needed to pull back to my larger surroundings, settle into my whole self. My eyes moved beyond the metallic needles to Lydia’s hands—bumpy and aged, busy—then to the red garment growing in her lap, a gift for the bishop’s grandchild, she’d said. Looking, finally, to Lydia’s face, I realized two things: One, her lips were moving. And two, it was a good thing I was taping this interview.
I swallowed hard and darkened my eyes with their lids. The bishop’s wife offered coffee. Today I sipped water, instead, recording stray words—rice, classes, pray—while checking off bullets on my list of prepared questions.
Lydia spoke of her home in Jerusalem—of daily checkpoints, poverty, and blindness. But Lydia herself drew my attention more than her words. Especially her hands. The way they could knot and pull and click and twist and tie one long string into a continued set of loops that was something. They did this independent of her retelling of the string of events that looped her life. While her mind and speech relived a past kindness, her hands created a physical object with an actual purpose. While retelling the childhood story of her own fading sight, two inches of fabric emerged from the machine of her hands. Clearly her fingertips could see the yarn. Pointed index fingers trapped and released its red body, pinned it to the metal, and then let it go. In rhythm. Knit. Click click. Purl two. Click click. “Our cupboard was empty (click click) and I brought from home my rice (click click) but I was not needed (click click) to cook my rice, for neighbors (click click) brought us enough rice and sugar (click click) for all the girls.”