Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Friday, May 8, 2020

Stay home, keep calm, knit comfort

During my wife’s last calendar year of life, she knitted a prayer shawl a month. 

            You may not be familiar with prayer shawls. Some are square; some triangular. Joan’s tended to be about five feet long and two feet wide, knitted with the warmest and softest wool she could buy. (The wool shop was always glad to see her!)

            In the days when we could still gather for worship services, our congregation periodically held a blessing of prayer shawls. Every person either laid a hand directly on a shawl, or on someone connected to a shawl.

            People have different understandings  of the efficacy of prayer. Does God actively intervene to heal diseases, natural disasters, and shootings? Does God have to wait for our prayers before acting? Does God need the right password? Does God exist at all?

            Regardless, I have no doubt that those shawls carried with them a sense of warmth and comfort to people who needed both. 


Steep learning curve

            Earlier this year, some women in the congregation wanted to get together to knit shawls. Joan was no longer driving, so I took her. Since I was there anyway, I figured I should learn to knit. 

            I’m an awkward knitter. I’m naturally left-handed, but knitting patterns all seem to be right-handed. So I have to concentrate on what I’m doing. 

            knit 2, yarn over, knit 2 tog, yo, repeat…

            My needles don’t fly like Joan’s. Or like my mother’s, who could knit socks for me while simultaneously serving as secretary for a meeting. 

            But when I’m frustrated with bureaucracies and corporations (see last week’s column)  it’s comforting to have small, clearly defined tasks to focus on. 


Coping with bad news

            David Suzuki got hold of a memo from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to the federal Natural Resources Minister, asking government for “a massive rollback in regulatory oversight, a full stop in the development of any new climate policy, and for the industry to be exempted from the requirement to report on lobbying activity.”

            The memo also asked government to cancel “plans to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.” 

            slip next two stitches as if K2tog, K1, then pass slipped stitches over knit stitch…

            The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation writes, “Living with cystic fibrosis is like living with COVID-19 every day of your life. A diagnosis of cystic fibrosis (CF) is not only one of lung degeneration but can also lead to isolation, sacrifice, and fear -- feelings many of us have become all too familiar with recently.”

            slip next 2 stitches knitwise, pass them back, knit through back loop together…

            In the United States, the S&P 500 Index experienced its steepest and fastest decline on record – down 35% in just 33 days.

            knit 3, purl to last 3 stitches, K3…

            I don’t mean to sound callous or uncaring about these issues. I will write letters. I will send emails. I will make donations. I will do something. But I can’t do everything. And I can’t do it all at once. 

            I’m currently knitting my second prayer shawl. I hope it will prove comforting to someone. In the meantime, it’s certainly comforting to me. 

            knit 3 rows garter stitch. Cast off….


Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Some of your comments in responses to my gripe about automated voice menu programs were brief. 

            Jewel Dhuru wrote, “Thanks so much for your article about liminal times; I so agree with your analogy to labour pains and rebirth.”

            David Edwards agreed, and liked “the line from Psalm 22.” 

            And Beth Richardson said “Amen!” to my line,  "Technology can never substitute for person to person relations


Tom Watson resonated with that same line: Your closing line [about technology] is so apt.  Yesterday, for the first time, I was part of a music festival committee meeting on Zoom. It was better than not meeting at all, I suppose, but otherwise I didn't find it satisfactory and hope not to have to use it many times -- it's a lame substitute for person-to-person gatherings.”


Bill Rogers said that when he hears the voice saying,  “Your call is important to us, please stay on the line,” he wants to shout “You want me to stay on line at your pleasure, it is more important to you to save dollars and not hire more responders, than my time -- after all what choice do you have, dear customer?”


Isabel Gibson sympathized with my struggles: “After my father died, I remember calling all the charities he supported to shut down the mailings: a task much easier and more direct than what you're trying to do. Even so, I remember being absurdly grateful to the Parkinson's Society because when I called them, they gently told me they had already removed his name. Why? Because they'd received donations in his memory. Stands to reason, right?

            “That sort of connecting-the-dots thinking is woefully rare, as is the ability to figure out what people might be wanting to do with your organization. On the website of one noted magazine, I can subscribe and also renew my subscription; and I can order a gift subscription but not renew it. That takes a phone call. Huh?

            “Of course ‘Report a Death’ ought to be an option on sites for organizations that sell policies or memberships, or even on their voice menus. That it is not so much a failure of their humanity as a failure their imagination.”


ill Rogers: I too became a refugee, and that happened sometime before I became a widower.  My beloved wife needed my full time care eight years ago, and I had to resign from several church courts without notice - life was not the same.  My goal, my job, my pleasure was to do the very best for the one who for 61 years at that time, had done her best for me. I knew I had to survive her and I would be there for her until the end. For five years I watched her capabilities slowly lessen and I cautiously compensated for her.  Knowing it was end of life, I suppose my grieving unconsciously grew within me, and when that life ended as expected, it was relief for her, a pause for me.  Inward feelings of grieving for so long, allowed my family to come together and look to what may be ahead.  During the years of care-giving I purposely ignored my health, as long as I could care for her I was satisfied.  Now reality set in and my new task was to recover some of the energy and fitness I had lost, and I did so.  
            It's three years, a time of returning to church attendance, a time of visiting children, a time of returning to some old habits and routines. Today, the loss of my loved one [still] makes my heart cringe, the memories overwhelm me at times, I try to uphold the values we had upheld together, well, life does go on


Dick Best wrote thast he was with me all the way through that column, until he got to the line, “I have yet to meet an individual who, face to face and eye to eye, will show no kindliness at all.”

            Dick accused me of being either “naive … or being nicer than you need to be, or you know a better group of people than I do.  I have known numerous individuals who will either offer no kindliness at all or who, if they supposedly do so, are obviously faking it.  And I can think of a certain President (whom I cannot claim to know personally) who seems utterly unable to express any care or concern for anyone or anything that doesn't directly and very immediately affect himself, who puts an umbrella over himself and leaves his wife, walking beside him, in the rain. On the other hand, I do know a whole lot of people who totally fill your characterization and who go above and beyond to do so, so I am blessed there.”


Jack Freebury: I would like to express my appreciation for the care you take in preparing your interesting and relevant columns. Regarding today’s column I absolutely relate to your frustrations. The only time I have had a really satisfying telephone enquiry was the time I phoned Lee Valley Tools to ask them to take my name off the list for their catalogue and a friendly human being actually answered and dealt with my request in two minutes. It was an absolute pleasure being able to  talk to a real person.

            “One thing we could all do is lobby our employment policy makers to require all institutions and businesses to use real people to  provide telephone service for customer enquires instead of automated voice messages. This could also help to provide needed employment in this era of growing unemployment and underemployment.”


Cliff Boldt has been experiencing the same difficulties, for a different reason: “We are moving from our current home. Address changes, telephone number changes, cancellation of hydro and telephone, change in insurance policies, charities to which we have donated in the past -- every complaint you itemized, we have had too.  We feel for you as one more cause of frustration and grief is piled on another.  Your [paraphrase of] 23 Psalm is indeed a bit of balm in all this stress.”




Psalm paraphrase


The Epistle reading for this Sunday is the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the new group forming around the late Jesus. I wonder if he might endorse this paraphrase of Psalm 31. 


1          The winds of fate buffet me, Lord.
I cling to you. 

2          Gales of temptation try to tear me from my security.
I'm being blown away, Lord. I need shelter.

3          Give me something to hold onto;
don't let all the effort you put into me go to waste. 

4          I went way out on a limb for you, Lord;
don't let your foes cut me off. 

5          I can't hang on any longer;
I cast my fate to the winds. Don't abandon me now!

15        My life is in your hands.
I've lost control. Only you can save me.

16        Bring back the sunshine and the gentle breezes, Lord.
If you love me, save me!


You can find paraphrases of  most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalms available from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.







If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.

                  Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!

                  I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.

                  Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                  I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)






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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: knitting, bad news, comfort



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