We live in a nation and a world that seem divided across many fault lines. I don’t think anyone could deny that – all it takes is a quick look at the news headlines over the past couple of weeks (or months, or years) to confirm it. And unlike the olden days (that would be the 1950s and ’60s, when my parents were in politics), compromise is now viewed as something akin to heresy, rather than as the means of getting good governance done. These days, I read the news and look at the state of the world and come close to despair, wondering how we’re ever going to recover from the fractures that threaten our society.
And yet, a couple of weeks ago I was once again in the judging room at Maine Quilts, the state’s annual quilt show. For those of you who have never worked in a judging room, it involves a lot of moving parts – I was coordinating two judges, 16-18 volunteers, and 80 quilts which needed to be judged over the course of two half-day shifts. This year, one of the volunteers was a friend who is an amazing quilter. (She’s won the “Best Domestic Machine Quilting” ribbon at the show ever since we started awarding it, four years ago.) We’ve known each other for years, as members of the same quilt guild and running club, and a year and a half ago, she sent me a Facebook “friend request” which I accepted. I was shocked to discover then that, outside of our common interests, our social and political views were roughly 180 degrees apart. (I’m sure she was stunned too.) Some other friends advised me to “unfriend” her – cut all ties because there was no way we could be friends if we didn’t agree on how to fix the problems in the world. But I didn’t want to do that. We had been quilting and running buddies for a long time, and despite our newly-discovered differences on other topics, I really liked her.
I confess I was a little nervous about working with her for ten hours in the judging room, because we hadn’t spent much face-to-face time since our unsettling discovery – but it turned out that in this context, none of our differences mattered. After judging, we went to dinner with some other friends and talked about quilting stuff, and life stuff (it’s vaguely reassuring that someone who is so talented at both quilting and running still struggles with parenting her teenagers!). She won the Domestic Machine ribbon yet again, and we had a long talk about why she should be stretching her wings in some bigger shows (again, vaguely reassuring that someone so talented suffers from the same anxiety about her skills as I do!). We had fun together and we parted, after the show, looking forward to doing it all again next year.
And maybe that’s what it will take to heal the divisions we see now in the world. I’m certain that in our guild, there are people with whom we all disagree on any number of matters (statistically, with a group of almost 100, it’d be impossible not to!). But every month, when we come together for a couple of hours, none of that matters. We focus on what we have in common – our shared love of fabric and the beauty we can create with it – and that shared love makes it very hard to demonize each other over any other differences we might have. This seems like a pretty good metaphor and message for the world at large – a reminder that what we share in common can be a starting place for doing the hard work of discussing and resolving our differences. Of course, our 401(c)3 status means we’re not allowed to engage in any political activity, so I’ll stop short of suggesting that we stage a coup (though wouldn’t “A Quilt on Every Bed!” make for a great campaign slogan?), but – if I can push that metaphor dangerously close to its breaking point – maybe quilters are exactly the people the world needs right now to pick up the torn fabric of our society and put it back together in beautiful and unexpected ways.
See you at the meeting,