When you’re seeking comfort, sometimes the real thing will do just fine.
The other night a cool wind rushed in through the open bedroom window like a woman late to a party. Maple-scented and urgent, it tugged at my sleep until I sat up, blinking, reaching for warmth not needed since summer came to stay and sit a spell.
The quilt folded at the foot of our bed is new. Why have I been leery of actually using it, skittish as a cat circling an unfamiliar object? I’ve never cared in particular about bed coverings – as long as ours was relatively clean and didn’t clash with the décor, it would do. No sense spending more than necessary on clothes for a bed that no one sees but us.
And then came that sign on a back road during a family road trip to Lancaster County last month: “Quilts for Sale.” My sister-in-law, with a nose for fine quilting like an oenophile sniffing wine, called out and we braked. Pulled into a parking lot populated by a horse and carriage. Piled down outside stairs into a basement shop.
Her hair covered by a white muslin prayer kap, the woman of the house emerged with a cheerful greeting, her shy blonde daughter clutching at her hem.
“Wie bischt?” (How are you?) “I am Anna. Verwelkomen to my shop.”
We had no intention of buying anything that day. But then we saw it – a quilt in colors I’ve loved for over 60 years. An enormous eight-pointed star bursting outwards in shades of violet, eggplant, aubergine, moss green. Tens of thousands of tiny white stitches.
A masterpiece demands respect, and we stooped, gingerly touching the fabric.
“You can’t hurt it!” Anna smiled. “It is made to last. Every stitch done by hand. Perhaps 350 hours of stitching but no work involved, only prayer. He loved doing it.”
He? HE? But isn’t it Amish women who do the quilting, and the men who raise the barns?
“Ach, not always,” she laughed. “See? Here?” and she flipped the bottom edge over.
“Ephraim Stoltzfus made this,” Anna explained. “He doesn’t get around much anymore, and quilting keeps his hands busy while he prays. He does fine work, jah?”
Years ago a prairie-dweller explained the philosophy behind quilting. We make them thick to keep our families warm. We make them beautiful to keep our hearts from breaking.
The radio woke me this morning bleating out the bad news of the day: another blast in Afghanistan. A 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Italy.
ITALY! Didn’t our son and daughter-in-law’s travel plans have them driving through Italy on August 24th? A fumble for their itinerary, confirmation. A few anxious hours until a ping comes from iMessage: “We stayed an extra day in Switzerland, Mom. We’re fine.”
But what about the other mamas? Those whose children are being pulled from the rubble today in Italy, or Kabul, or a dozen other places around the world?
Comfort them, Lord. Comfort her.
I pull the quilt up to our headboard, the spines of the lone star pointing to all corners of the globe. And in those stitches beneath my hands are the prayers of a community who understands pain, who makes their quilts thick to keep their loved ones warm, and beautiful to keep their hearts from breaking.
LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy.