What a Tablecloth Taught Me About Relationships

The night before I traveled to my brother’s wedding I was putting the finishing touches on his wedding gift: a hand-crocheted tablecloth. After four years in the making, it was wonderful to finally work on the last part — blocking it. This task was the most tedious. Stretching the tablecloth and pinning it at every small point on the edge would ensure its beauty — otherwise it would look like a crumpled up, tired mass of string.

This was time consuming, and I didn’t have much time left. So I asked the two other sisters living with me if they would help me. Both of them agreed. As we were kneeling on the floor, backs bent over the tedious work at hand, I told them what I had learned while crocheting the tablecloth. I had learned a lot about relationships — how they are made, how they are broken, how they are mended, how to look at them, and how to cherish them. I was, and still am, amazed at how making that tablecloth touched me so deeply.

Crocheting and re-crocheting

Four years is a long time to work on one project. I made one block, called a motif, then another, then another. Since each block was the same, I eventually memorized the pattern. Making the same motif over and over again became monotonous, but knowing that each piece would make a beautiful gift for my brother helped me keep crocheting.

I began to realize that relationships, too, take a long time to develop. Every relationship is made up of small bits of interaction with others. Over time, that interaction may become predictable, perhaps monotonous. Sometimes it may seem insignificant. Yet every moment shared has the potential of building the relationship if we keep the reason why we are in the relationship in mind. These individual interactions eventually become interwoven to form one beautiful reality.

Any handmade item is unique and delicate. If any part of a crocheted item is broken, it easily unravels and can cause irreparable damage. It takes keen observation to see a break in a repeated pattern, to zero in on the individual threads. The sooner a tear is mended, the less damage is done; the longer it takes, the more damage is done. Each type of break is fixed differently. Some breaks just need to be re-crocheted a little; others might need to be unraveled a little more so that a small completely new piece can be inserted.

Gaining perspective

Relationships are just as unique and delicate. When they are broken, they too, can unravel; some unravel completely because breaks and tears have not been identified and mended soon enough. Sometimes we know something is wrong but hesitate or are afraid to bring it up, or we might tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter. But if we are able to identify the tear, seek help, and discover a solution to mend the relationship, it can be restored.

I also discovered that how I look at what I have made is very important. Another word for this is perspective. Anything handmade has flaws in it. I had made mistakes, but some weren’t worth taking out. I simply made some adjustments so that the mistake would be less noticeable. Once all the motifs were stitched together, only if I looked closely could I find the motifs with mistakes. However, I would never be able to find my mistakes if I took a step back and looked at the tablecloth as a whole. All my mistakes blended in; they didn’t stand out.

This realization has probably helped me the most in my relationships. Everyone makes mistakes. There are going to be things I just don’t like about others. But if my gaze is always zoomed in, I will definitely be able to pick out mistakes, possibly fixate on them. If instead, I allow myself to step back and gain perspective, I allow all the other aspects of the relationship to speak to me. The mistakes become part of the whole and may no longer be visible.

The key to preserving a work of art is cherishing it. A handmade tablecloth cannot be replaced with something from the store. It is an heirloom. We care for heirlooms differently than we care for throwaway items. When a special occasion warrants the use of the tablecloth, my brother’s family is reminded of their wedding and my presence in their lives.

Cherishing relationships is the thread that binds them together. It motivates us to take the time we need to develop and preserve them. We will care for those with whom we are in relationships as the irreplaceable, unique, precious gifts that they are, rather than objects to be used and thrown away.

As I explained all this to my helpful sisters, Sr. Mary Joan told me, “That is really beautiful. That is part of the gift too. You should write that in their card.” I hadn’t thought of that but I liked her idea. When my new sister-in-law opened the gift and read the card, she told me that what I had written was the best gift she had received.

It may sound funny, but I am forever grateful to that tablecloth for revealing such important things to me. I cherish what I learned and have passed it on to others over the years. Now I pass the heirloom on to you. I hope it speaks to you too.