Quilting: An Analogy

Ecclesiastes 3:11 in the KJV says,
“He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.”

Literally, the Hebrew reads:
“He has made everything beautiful in his time: also he put eternity in their heart, without which no man can find out the work of God from the beginning to the end.”

Isharah and Matthew

The day, emblazoned into my memory, seems like yesterday. Just after his second birthday in December of 1977, I inadvertently burned my Indian-born son - not with fire, but with boiling, sweetened tea. In his semi-comatose state, Matthew lay on a quilt placed on the terrazzo floor under a ceiling fan. More for my need than his, I lay beside him.

On a particularly hot day in Tirucherappali, South India, where the temperatures often soar above a hundred, and where disease runs rampant, the accident had happened. Dehydrated from heat, my toddlers had been crying, because they wanted me to make them something to drink. Both were just behind me as I methodically boiled the water for the required twenty minutes; put the tea leaves into it and then the sugar. No sooner had I strained and poured the tea into the flask than Matthew grabbed it and attempted to drink. Whether it was the heat on his hands or the heat that touched his lips we'll never know, but he dropped the bottle, and the tea scalded him. His skimpy T-shirt acted as a poultice, holding the tea onto his tiny torso. Impulsively, I stripped off the shirt, bringing with it the skin of his entire chest and stomach.

While I tried to give Matthew some measure of relief before taking him for professional help, a domestic, employed in the house, began rocking from side to side, chanting words in her native tongue. Carrying him down the gravel road, I ran toward the nearest hospital with the servant, like a shadow, behind me. There was no car for me, and even if there had been, I couldn't have driven it. I was not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road amidst pedestrians, oxcarts, bicycles, and wandering animals.

Through a dark hallway, Dr. Jeremiah approached, and on catching a glimpse of the burn, pronounced a foul expletive under his breath. To cover his original reaction, he deliberately calmed his voice and inquired pleasantly, “Is it fire burn?” With bare, oozing, flesh presenting itself where the bronze skin had been, there was no need to tell the doctor why I was there.

Antibiotics were prescribed for the infection that would come, ointment for soothing and healing, and pain medication for calming. Since conditions were far from sanitary at the hospital, Matthew could not be treated there. Dr. Jeremiah suggested that my house would be relatively free of staff infection and that Matthew must go back home.

At home, we lay on the quilt, under a ceiling fan, trying to ignore the agony that covered us - his physical and mine mental. As I read to him, the sound of my voice appeared to sooth his nerves. I talked at times of things he could do when he was able to raise his body from the floor. I talked of the quilt on which we lay - how this odd scrap had come from his sister's blouse, or that scrap had come from my dress, or another from his daddy's shirt. Waiting for the medication to take effect, I watched the swelling come, the body liquids ooze and my little son sleep.

Like a kaleidoscope, thoughts of the quilt circled in my brain. There had been good days - days represented by plain or printed fabric. Prints, like Jacob's ring-streaked and spotted cattle, were in abundance; gay colors bounced, circled, and swam before my watery eyes. Each piece of patchwork represented a time in our lives that had been brought together by the artistry of a quilter. As I reminisced of the good days gone by, the quilt gave me hope that there would be more.

This tragic day seemed to be a pale block. Splashes of beautiful, bright colors had already been painted throughout, and in contrast to this one, they stood out like flowers in a fog. Death is a pale patch; that day's encounter was as close to that pale hue as any had ever been. Yet all of the colors seemed to blend marvelously. Overlooking the pale, mismatched, and badly sewn lines - life looked beautiful. I pondered what it might have looked like if I had been the only designer.

Matthew's quilt was so short. I wondered about the patterns that might be woven into his life - how long his quilt would be.

I imagined his marriage with his bride weaving the patches of her own life into his. Would the fabrics be beautiful, colorful, and long, or would they be suddenly ripped apart, leaving a terrible gaping hole to cause agony and unrest.

I wanted to help make those patterns, but Matthew's immature little fingers had also begun to work the colors together without my help. My own hands had faltered. Yes, my fingers had almost helped to sew that pale border that I wished would never come.

Matthew recovered. Although he was scarred, he is alive. He doesn't like to talk about his scar; it is a grim reminder of his brush with death.

Matthew likes quilts, and I am making one for him. His quilt will have all the scenes of his life in India meshed together - good days and the bad, bright prints and plain. There will be time for reminiscing and telling his children how life was.

Beth Johnson

Matthew's Quilt
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Move cursur over quilt to magnify

Embroidered designs that make the quilt gay
Are pleasures and duties we find in our way;
Hope, love and kisses are stitches so bright,
Which decorate life with gleams of delight;
While sympathy sweet is the lining to hold
The odd scraps of fate, which we cannot control.
We are better than patchwork because of the soul.
...found embroidered on the back of an 1890 quilt.

Pictures of Matthew

Published in The Old Paths Archive