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The Pandemic and Our World


My Birthday is on February 1st, so each year when that date arrives it is a magical moment. It is a day of joy and celebration, as well as a time to reflect and reset. This year was particularly special because of the enormous challenges overcome and obstacles hurdled during the past 12 months for all who share this nation and this planet. First, looking back at the challenge for the planet, I could not separate my story from the incredible human story that turned this world upside down and made us understand that our precious earth is actually one large home that we all must share. It is a home where all fates are interconnected. That is a consciousness that for centuries has seemed illusory. However, with a raging pandemic on the ground and the very survival of the species at stake, in 2020 it became the reigning long-term lesson. The beauty of the story is that we had the courage and consciousness as an intelligent species to join hands across the seven continents, travel to the safety of cyberspace, tirelessly share research and creativity, and wage war against a common viral enemy that for a while appeared unstoppable. We lived through a worldwide shutdown in March, and dark days with grim news and mounting statistics of lives lost throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Then, a ray of hope arrived in the form of a vaccine in December. Once again, there on display was the brilliance of this animal, the reminder of our need for each other, and the triumph of the indomitable human spirit. Brighter Days Ahead!


Our Nation

Looking back at our nation’s 2020 story, we saw the best and worst of what we could be. That included deep-seated political, racial, and cultural divides that set off a chain of events that left us shaken to the core. Thankfully, as with the pandemic, after a frightening series of events registering some of the darkest days in the history of this country, the brilliance of the founding fathers once again prevailed as we turned out to vote in record numbers. Bravely exercising our rights as citizens by casting our ballots, our democracy held strong. That set the stage for an eventual peaceful transfer of power. Our nation has now opened a new chapter and can move forward with a renewed hope for healing,


Our Knitting Community

Finally, during this incredible year, being a member of this wonderful knitting community was a constant source of sustenance. It is a community that is a never-ending beacon of light. It is fearless, resilient, and determined. It is also a worldwide community that understands that the way forward is always through learning and inclusivity. Knitting Guilds across this country and around the world celebrate excellence in craftsmanship and a love of adventure. That spirit was never more on display than during this year of the pandemic. Cyber connections brought us closer together than ever with nonstop knitting events that celebrated all aspects of our beloved handcraft.


In Memoriam

2020 was also a year where we lost four of our big stars who had brought much light and learning to our knitting community. They were Cat Bordhi, Pearl Chin, Annie Modesitt, and Jon Giswold. All had an enormous generosity of spirit. All four were also larger than life in spirit.


I would like to personally thank each of them for leaving this world a richer and more enlightened place.


Cat Bordhi was a brilliant knitwear designer and teacher who almost single-handedly

saved my design reference book, Knitwear Design Workshop (KDW). When it was released in 2010 those writing the reviews on Amazon were not taking the book seriously. The reviews were not substantive. She then wrote a long and very detailed review that turned the tide. Her words and obvious diligence in her investigation of the book made people sit up and take notice. I did not know her at that time and she certainly did not have to come to my rescue, but she did. She was kind and caring. At that moment I was introduced to her selflessness, her sense of fairness, and her diligence. I wrote her a note of thanks. The words in her reply were, “they do not understand what you have given them.” Knitwear Design Workshop finished at #5 that year for all craft books sold on Amazon. We used a quote from Cat’s review on the 10th Anniversary promotions for KDW where she described it as “A backstage glimpse into the thinking process of a gifted designer.” For leaving such a rich legacy of knitting techniques and for being willing to lend your voice wherever you thought it was needed, Thank you, Cat.



Pearl Chin owned Knitty City, a yarn shop here in New York City that was a knitting sanctuary/ community center on the Upper West Side. For me, she was also a dear friend. For several years I taught at the shop. Whenever I walked in my spirits were always buoyed by the loving atmosphere. Like her, the shop was a place that was soft-spoken, yet self-assured, a place where there was always some community or knitting activity being planned or executed. She once explained that her parents had owned a store in Texas that was a place where people would come to sit and comfortably congregate. She liked that feeling of community and wanted to create that type of comforting atmosphere in her shop. Indeed, she more than succeeded in doing that! Pearl was a calm ball of energy who was truly a mover and shaker with what she called her “craftivism”. Whether she was donating yarn to women’s shelters, or sponsoring knitting-centered social awareness events, she was constantly giving, caring, encouraging, and innovating. She was truly an inspiration to all who knew her. Walking into her ICU room felt like entering a warm pool of hugs. There were photos, written thoughts, and handmade items sent from those whose lives she had touched. Aside from the photo of her 1year old grandson dressed in an Air Force uniform, my favorite was a framed, handmade felted heart. In my mind, it represented the incredible outpouring of love from family, friends, and the knitting community that she held dear. For bringing such a bright light to this community, Thank you, Pearl.



Annie Modesitt called herself the Knitting Heretic. She took pride in the fact that she knit in an unconventional way. She was a gifted designer and teacher who was a part of the industry when magazines began to open online stores where they would sell electronic downloads of the patterns that had been featured in their publications. Since those patterns were the intellectual property of the designers who had created them, they felt that they should receive a fair share of the profits in the form of royalties from any sales. Annie was one of the designers who negotiated the contracts that were being offered to ensure that they would be fairly compensated. By doing that she helped to change a payment system that had always been totally slanted in the direction of the publishers. For teaching us that doing things differently can lead to greatness, and for helping to orchestrate a lasting change that lifted the entire industry, Thank you, Annie.



Jon Giswold was a part of a group of gifted fitness instructors that I worked out with when getting my body back in shape after major surgery years ago. Even then he was an avid knitter. We both also frequented the same yarn shop. He was one of the kindest and most compassionate individuals who ever walked on the planet. He touched many with his social knitting group Knit in the Pit in Asbury Park, also his project to teach kids to knit, and his podcast Moments that Matter where he explored life lessons. For all the sunshine you left behind, Thank you, Jon

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I understand and agree with the heartfelt thoughts that many of you have sent this past week on the ongoing racial injustice in this country. For those of you who participated in the civil rights era marches, I truly understand your outrage at the ongoing police brutality and your mortification regarding the riots and looting. I will express my thoughts on both below.


First, I would like to address the issue of police brutality. It is quite disheartening to have this recurring situation of watching those sworn to protect us wantonly murdering a segment of our citizens with seeming impunity. We can look back 57 years to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech during the famous “March on Washington", on August 28, 1963, and see that one of the leading issues at that time was police brutality towards this nation’s Black citizens. Unfortunately, in terms of meaningful reforms in that area, we have been stuck in a time warp. On that day, a quarter of a million people of all colors, and all walks of life, gathered from all over the country to protest for jobs and civil rights for Black citizens. In part of his speech, Dr. King addressed the question being posed by some Americans of when those in the civil rights movement would be satisfied. The first topic among the litany of societal injustices cited was that of police brutality. He said, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”


57 years is nearly a lifetime. It is well past time for each police department, in every state, to have in place a zero-tolerance policy for any act of unprovoked brutality against any civilian. Period! Regulations must also be put in place to dismantle the ability of any city’s police force to harbor criminal elements. We must educate the police forces across this country on interacting with all races, and hold each officer sworn to protect all citizens under their watch, accountable for all their actions. There are serious legal ramifications for perpetuating hate crimes in this country for civilians. This should apply to all police forces as well.


For People of Color, everyone knows that it has been quite a journey. It is well past time to complete the job of correcting the centuries-old injustices. In your correspondence, some of you spoke of having feelings of despair when thinking of ever being able to make the necessary corrections in this country. In light of what we have recently witnessed, now and in the past, I completely understand those feelings and concerns. However, I feel that we should have a greater sense of hope. When viewed from a historical perspective, our nation is better positioned to achieve this today than we have ever been. My personal hope is based on reading the statements published over the past week from some of the nation’s major corporations taking a stand against racism and white supremacy. That means that we are all standing together this time. Why? Because of all the changes that the original civil rights movement brought about. We all now live, love, and work together. There are now faces that can be placed on a friend, neighbor, child, or grandchild when someone makes a bigoted statement, or when someone is seen being unfairly treated because of the color of his or her skin.


We are all intertwined far more than we ever were. When I see a young woman, whose grandfather and father were both Black Muslims, marrying a white Christian because they met on a college campus and fell in love, I see living proof of the positive changes that the civil rights movement brought about deep in our conscience as a society. That altering of the mindset deep in the soul of this nation, to eliminate Color as the first factor considered in any interaction, is a large part of what we fought for. Continuing to look back at the civil rights movement and to remember Dr. King’s words in his “Dream” speech, he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The realization of that dream, as presented in that speech, is present before our eyes every day. That helps us to know that the country has now evolved to a high enough level to get this job done. Therefore, even in the midst of the current turmoil, there is reason to shelve the despair and journey on in the struggle with much hope.


The events of these past few weeks have spawned a new civil rights era as we watch all races, young and old, on the streets marching together to fight for a better world for their offspring. The young are fully invested in that ideal, not because people of our generation are preaching to them, but because they know and understand that it is the right way forward. As a nation, we had not evolved to that degree in the 1960s. At that time, most things were running on two separate racial tracks and we were very much a “They” society. Over this past half century there has been a sea change, and we have very much become a “We” society. This could not be more clearly seen than at this moment of protest. It is currently a moment where we see White and mixed-race parents and grandparents of black children on the streets marching with young Black men and women who are at greatest risk, because that risk is now also theirs. The multiracial and multigenerational families marching understand that unlike in the 1960s, the children who are the most vulnerable to racial attack are not from distant cities or neighborhoods. They are those that they love.


Reading comments of anguish, anger, and helplessness, my thoughts were that through what we had witnessed with George Floyd on our televisions and computer screens, we had all been taken to a place where we felt some combination of those emotions. For those who took to the streets in a rioting formation, those deep emotions were turned into destructive action. For those of my generation, watching those scenes unfold only added to our distress. Not only do we remember the key points of Dr King’s “Dream” speech, we also remember the general philosophy of the civil rights movement as it related to self-conduct. In his speech, he reiterated the points on conduct as established by the founders of the movement. He said, “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” With those words, and that way of behaving ingrained in the hearts and minds of those in my generation, when the looting began, we stood screaming, “No-o!” However, our shouts fell on deaf ears and everything spiraled out of control.


We were forced to understand that the rioters and looters had been moved into a state of shock. Their key motivating factor was: How, in 2020, do we watch a cold-blooded murder, in the guise of a knee on the neck, on our televisions and computers and do nothing??? When the officers were not charged, with sufficient evidence as a backdrop, they knew that the wheels of justice were never going to turn in the favor of a Black or Brown victim. They then took to the streets.


Although I do not condone the actions that were destructive, their response was totally understandable. It was outrage that morphed into pure rage. With the string of recent events in different states that had resulted in the loss of life for Black citizens prior to George Floyd’s murder, I am surprised that the “explosion” had not happened sooner. The unspoken message of the rioters was, “You cannot get away with blatant murder without feeling that there will be consequences!” With those deep feelings of anguish, anger, and helplessness, they risked their lives and brought this country to its knees. They had no other way of saying, “Stop the madness!” than to send some of it back. The destruction of property in some of the wealthiest business districts in the country as well as in the poorest districts, showed that rich or poor, Black or White, and everywhere in between, there are no safety nets. They were sending the message that we must acknowledge that we are all in this together.


To give people that sense of hopelessness is to open the door to unbridled anger. We know that the end result of anger is always destruction. When people are angry, and people feel that they have nothing to lose, the calling for those in power who are wise is to sit up and try to change whatever they can to give those in despair a sense of hope and inclusion. Not having the will or courage to do that means that they should be prepared to lose things that they have worked for and hold dear. King Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:7, "There is a time to tear and a time to mend; a time for silence and a time for speech.” For those on the streets breaking windows last week, the time had come to speak loudly through tearing.

Finally, I was relieved by several things. First, seeing that cooler heads prevailed. Second, that additional loss of life was minimal. Third, that the darkness of the night has given way to a brighter day with people exercising their first amendment rights as citizens to peacefully assemble to protest the injustices.

Although, unfortunately, we cannot give George Floyd his life back, perhaps his name can serve as a beacon of hope for our age; a reminder of a place in the American psyche that we as a nation never want to return to. Let his legacy be that his death was the catalyst for a change that helped humanity to advance, and paved the way for a brighter future for generations yet to come.


Shirley

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Updated: Jun 10, 2020


Those who are my age are particularly disheartened by the recent events of bigotry and racism.  It is a true déjà vu moment.  We lived through the events of the 1960s where the system of domestic and institutional racism that had been born with this country and had continued unchecked for centuries had to be dismantled.  The civil rights movement was a very strategically planned war, and there were many casualties as the organizers knew there would be. They followed Mahatma Gandhi's approach of nonviolent resistance that had ended the Raj period of British rule in India.  They were met with fierce and very violent opposition. Power is not usually given away without a fight and freedom is not free. They knew that. 


Their courage and tenacity got the nation's attention.  All decent citizens were appalled by watching people being beaten and dogs let out on them and fire hoses opened on them. Who were these people?  They were hard-working, normally law-abiding, tax-paying American Citizens. In some of the southern states, they were not even allowed to vote. They were not taking anything from anyone.  They were just peacefully asking to have a chance of fully participating in the American society that their families had been a part of for multiple generations. 


It had been nearly 100 years since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, after 3 years of a brutal civil war. It said,“All persons held as slaves are and henceforward shall be free”. Yet 100 years in the future there we were as a nation still living in 2 societies, operating under the Separate but Equal laws where everything was separate but quite unequal, and remembering the words that Thomas Jefferson had written in the 2nd paragraph of the Declaration of Independence of the United Colonies from Great Britain in 1776, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..." 


As the activists pressed on with orchestrated nonviolent protests that were all met with violent responses, the nation watched in horror.  However, it was clear that the time had come and there was no turning back.  It was not about small battles.  It was all about winning the war that they had declared on hatred and bigotry. Their actions and the scenes of the shameless hatred and violence that they were met with got the attention of the country and of a president who had a conscience.  We watched John F. Kennedy put the wheels in motion to right these injustices.  We also watched his assassination on national television.  Then, President Lyndon B. Johnson took up the cause.  He had a dream of what this country could and should be.  He called it “The Great Society.” Moving it in that direction was going to be his legacy. He sat down with Martin Luther King and the civil rights leaders, and with his masterful knowledge of the workings of the legislative branch of our government, navigated the waters and garnered the votes to get the Civil Rights Act passed. The House approved it on July 2, 1964 and 2 hours later, President Johnson signed it into law. The Voting Rights Bill was signed into law less than a year later, in May of 1965.


Desegregating the major institutions that was mandated by the Civil Rights Act and ensuring every citizen the right to vote has enabled us as a nation to experience generations altering accomplishments over these past 56 years.  However, it has been a bit like a wedding car driving along with the distracting sound of the tin cans attached to the back bumper hitting the ground as the car moves forward.  There has been a dangerous racist undercurrent that has remained attached in the hearts and minds of too many Americans as the car of Liberty has moved steadily forward.


We have seen inclusion of people of color at every level in this society, from the highest office in the land that is the Presidency, to physicians, Supreme Court judges, police officers, CEOs of major corporations, teachers, journalists, etc. We have come to understand that we cannot hate up close and we have moved closer together with friendships, marriages, etc.  This was the dream of the brave soldiers who perished on the front lines of the battlefield of the civil rights movement, both black and white. When we live and work together we come to understand that we are not different in our humanity. 


Through all the strides and accomplishments, that stubborn underbelly of racism has remained.  It has been hugely responsible for keeping us as a country from truly achieving our full potential, Lyndon Johnson’s dream of "The Great Society". Unfortunately, like an infected wound that has been allowed to fester and grow in the body for too long, and has become cancerous, It has now threatened to undo all the hard-fought gains that we as a society have achieved over more than half a century.  For our future and the future of our children, we must stand strong in our courage to cut it out.  It is not small.  It is more like a cancer that threatens to take the whole body down. 


Those of us who came of age during the civil rights era thought we had already fought this fight and won.  However, it appears that we declared victory prematurely.  It is well past time for those tin cans to be unhooked, and the cancer to be cut out so this wonderful country can grow into "The Great Society" that Lyndon Johnson envisioned.  The Vietnam war cut short his dreams of achieving that.  We have another chance, and an obligation to this magnificent land that we all love, to lock arms, stand strong, and remove this impediment once and for all. 


Shirley


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