The Lady in the Sky meets Jennifer at the co-op in Northampton, just like Jennifer meets Larissa and I at the Tuckerbox in White River Junction. She's got a sun sending off rays, and a rainbow, which is pretty much what's embroidered on the shirt the Lady in the Internet gave me last Tuesday.
That lady's name is Rhiannon. She posted on the Upper Valley Listserv that she was looking for someone to finish embroidering a shirt she had started thirty-five years ago & never finished, and while I am pretty clear that most requests posted on the internet have nothing to do with me, it was somehow immediately clear to me that this one was my work.
I agreed to meet her at work, down the street from the King Arthur Flour factory, parking on the frozen tundra of a corporate headquarters' front drive. Sure enough, her smile was waiting for me, swimming in the gloomy green space beyond the receptionist's desk. Rhiannon led me past metal turbine blades and down a fluorescent corridor, into a boardroom featuring ever more fan blades along its periphery, and numerous Fan Blade Awards on the wall.
She brought out a grey plastic co-op bag, and as she did so, a white mask of grief came over her eyes, as her face turned red. Then the opposite: red mask of grief, white face, This handoff was clearly a Something for Rhiannon. She composed herself, reached into the bag, and pulled out a pale denim Wrangler shirt with tremendous 1970's collar points. It had eyelet lace trim at all its margins, a butterfly on one cuff, rainbows over both chest pockets, and an unfinished landscape over the embroidered yoke. The unfinished second butterfly, hills, and pine trees had been marked out in pencil by Rhiannon's artist friend, thirty-five years ago.
Something had stopped.
Some rainbow-clock had frozen, and in that frozen time, Rhiannon's body had swollen and stilled.
Pulling this shirt out of the bag and explaining it to me, Rhiannon was looking at something frozen, maybe dead, maybe just emerging. Not easy, but she had decided that she was going to show it all to me, and so she reached into the bag again, and this time pulled out a more worn & wrinkled denim shirt. It had LASSIES stenciled in big black gothic letters on the yoke, and more rudimentary embroidery at the pockets and cuffs.
So, maybe, if it's not too much, and you'd like it, I'll give you this shirt, too? This one's from the high school drum and bugle corps I was in.
Really? That's amazing. I love that it says LASSIES on the back.
You do? I think a lot of people would be put off by that.
No, I think it's great.
Rhiannon's tears are back, and somehow I feel they are more connected with release than they are with loss. Giving away these objects to a stranger, she is reconnecting with their life. She reaches into the bag a third time, and pulls out a ziplock of threads and needles - some still in their packages, some neatly split and knotted, some poked through ancient brown scraps of burlap. Here are the tools you'll need, she says.
I tell Rhiannon that I'll keep her posted about what happens with the shirts - where they go, who wears them, and how the unfinished one looks, once all the designs are accounted for. I thank her, and she thanks me, saying she's been reading Marie Kondo's book about de-cluttering, and she totally gets it, about how objects need to circulate in the world, or else they sadden the spaces they linger in.
When I get home, there are two new emails from Rhiannon: links to YouTube videos of performances by the modern-day Lassies of Springfield, Missouri. The first one's okay, but the second one really gets me:
These girls, in their kilts and sporrans, spats and knee-socks, clean white shirts and sashes. These drums, these military rhythms. The pure seduction of war, youth, and certitude buoyed by inexperience. First comes the generalissima, in her piled-high polar-bear fur headpiece and scepter. She was chosen for this role because when she high-steps, she's the Lady in the Sky, drumming the earth into order with her feet. She whistles, and the others come marching, lines and lines of girls holding their whole school rapt, their whole world rapt, demanding the precise order of beats and feet and imperatives.
Now tears are running down my face. These Lassies - I imagine Rhiannon marching among them, bare knees flashing. We are here for one shining moment, and many ordinary ones. We shuck our finery and wear long johns. We choose our battles and are chosen. May we all grow wise, and stay limber.
A few days later, I sit down with the shirt, thread, and needles. Rhiannon of thirty-five years ago is clearly a more skilled embroiderer than I am. So be it. One wonky little tree in pale green. A slightly smoother one, mid-green. A positively easy, if sort-of twisted, dark green one. Some sun-rays. Done for now. Timothy asks if I'll add anything of my own, and the first thing that comes to mind is a jewel-barfing mongoose, like the one the King of the North hangs out with, in Tibetan iconography. Maybe so. The mongoose is a blessing-bestowing varmint, and this whole shirt escapade is a cascading system of blessings.
Rhiannon is a writer, and this is her dream-shirt. It will travel with the Inner Beauty circus. It will be a reminder to stay true to finery in all its forms as skillful means. Little Natalie's sonic finery. Making a playlist for her mother's birthday party, she puts her whole heart into it. She is unembarrassed in a way I could never have managed at her age, when I was far too self-conscious for high-stepping in spats, or inviting my mother's friends to dance with me to It's Raining Men.
The Lady in the Sky, with her rainbows and incomplete dark hills, is here to say, Find the true form of this passing form, then let it go by, but not too soon. It breaks down, and you let it, but not before the dance. Not before the full presence of each step, not before knowing that all along, everyone has been stepping their parts in the line, putting in their stitches in the pattern, drawn here, drawn there, complete & incomplete at every stage.
Look up from your plate: the Lady in the Sky is right there, her words and images pointing in different directions, to keep you flexible. The blades are spinning. The meetings happen by chance and by design. The effortlessness of connection takes over, once all other imperatives lose their force.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.