“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
My mom wore the pastel purple scarf I knitted all winter long for multiple winters. She wore it with her winter coat, because obviously. The coat, however, was red and gray. I, as a 15-year-old, was an expert at which colors matched well with others. I knew what was cool and what wasn’t. Not that I really ever achieved coolness. Let’s be honest; $30 name-brand shirts were out of the budget and I may have had a bit of a sweating problem. (I mean, didn’t everybody?) Isn’t it so hard growing up? With the hormones and the wanting to look cool and the needing to wear braces and the gangly limbs and the being surrounded by a bunch of other kids growing up as imperfectly as you?
In my infinite wisdom of coolness, I knew for certain that the purple scarf paired with the red and gray men’s coat (because women’s coats are twice the money for half the practicality and mom defers to practicality) didn’t match. Even as much as I wanted to be embarrassed by the mismatched colors, my mom wasn’t and that was enough to tempt me to be okay with it too.
I knit the scarf in sixth grade and it was my thesis of sorts from the knitting crash course taught by the teacher. It was more soft than warm, but long enough to wrap around the neck multiple times. That’s what I had wanted and I knit it so long that I could nearly trip over its fuzzy ends. More than just being okay with it, my mom loved it. She put it on (along with the coat) every morning to go to work at the hospital and to play with us outside and to dig a path for the miniature schnauzer to walk in the evenings. Red, gray, and purple. The colors didn’t match; they just didn’t go together. I mean, have you seen a color wheel?
But the thing is, love goes with anything. It’s the magic touch that makes anything work. Not even everybody needs to see it working. Only me, the knitter, and only my mom, the wearer. I needed to be okay with it; okay with the love, okay with my knack for knitting (as uncool as I knew it to be as a teenager in the United States), okay with the imperfections of the scarf, and okay with the harshness of growing up. To be clear, the scarf isn’t an analogy to represent who or what I am here. It isn’t who I am, but it is something that came from me. I did create it. And it is but one piece of the multitudes I contain.
We all hold multitudes and I’d wager to guess that we all try, at some point or another, to be okay with the pieces of the multitudes we carry. Especially now, in the thick of the Holiday season where whether or not we choose to celebrate near or far with loved ones, we’re bombarded with the pressures of gifts to be bought and money to be spent and fancy cookies to bake and letters to send and people to talk to and conversations to endure. And if we’re being honest, it sometimes feels like that: the Holidays can feel like an enduring. Maybe always, maybe just this one.
I’d like to remind you that the feeling like it’s an enduring isn’t our whole person; it’s just one part of the multitudes inside us. I’d like to also remind you there’s nothing wrong with us for being tired or for using the funnies section of the newspaper to wrap the gift or for wanting to just drive to look at the lights in utter silence. The slowing down, the wanting to withdraw from massive family gatherings doesn’t seem to match the typical norms of the Holiday season. Can we make new norms or lower our expectations of ourselves a bit? Can we bring love to the gatherings and to the spaces where we’re overwhelmed? Love goes with anything.
I think it’s possible to hold love for yourself and love for the person wrapping the gift differently than you without envy or disdain. It must be, right? It has to be. It takes a bit of humility and one person happily wearing a mismatched purple scarf and being okay with it to invite the person beside them to be okay with their thing this season.
Mostly, may you be okay with your multitudes and with theirs for we are all large.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
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