The suction-cup-shaped stitch that dots the sham I’m crocheting is called a bobble. When I finish, the white, half-inch bumps will make a pattern of diamonds on an oblong pillow. The cushion will live on my couch along with six others, both for show and to cradle our butts while we watch t.v.
Before I learned, I would not have believed how simple crochet is. Not simple to execute, but simple in structure. Most of the intricate lace you’ve seen, nearly all the granny-square glory, is constructed from variations on two basic stitches: single and double crochet. The bobble is basically six double crochets jammed together.
The simplicity blows my mind. Studying ballet as a kid, it took me five years just to learn the names of all the steps. Yet I’ve made a tea cozy, a sweater, the word LOVE in all caps, and a jaunty rooster with only two building blocks.
Of course, DNA is the same—the nucleotides A, T, C, and G pair like beads on two strings. Two basic dance steps make all life alive.
Of course, the flip side of simple is repetitive. Sometimes the boredom of row after row of the same freaking stitch makes me want to scream. Doing some quick math, I need about twenty-thousand stitches just to cradle one butt. It takes some grit to stick with it.
My attraction to the simple, repetitive boredom feels odd, yet I’m hooked all the same. The experience is trancelike—doing the same thing over and over while something warm, beautiful, and textured emerges from my reverie.
To be honest, my whole life is an exercise in repetitive boredom. I eat the same breakfast every morning, delight in routine, am happiest when I don’t leave my house, and get anxious with even low-grade busyness. Having two teenagers means I can’t fully become a hermit, but even their activities and need for clean underwear is an infinite loop. When the pandemic struck, despite my grief about the state of the world, I also felt relief. It was the perfect excuse to stay home.
So I was surprised when, about a year in, I began feeling panic every afternoon. I’d be in my bedroom, my work and chores for the day done, and I’d get short of breath.
What if this is all that there is? I kept thinking. What if this is all there is and it is not enough?
It would be understandable to panic if I disliked my life, but that wasn’t really the problem. Not long before, I’d taken a few weeks to journal about a hard year of grief, pretty sure I needed to make a big change: pursuing a master’s degree in theology? Getting a job in corporate communications? Becoming a graphic designer?
To my surprise, what I kept stumbling over was joy. Joy that my life was filled with peace, contentment, and connection. Despite my ennui, I did work I enjoyed every day and got enough sleep at night. I served in my community and advocated for justice. I hung laundry on the line while I listened to birdsong. I could (usually) communicate peacefully with my two adolescents. My husband and I often held hands while we watched TV.
The people and things I loved were all close at hand. In truth, it felt like my life, as is, was a dream come true.
So the panic was peculiar. I had chosen this life. I knew that it blessed me. I could not believe I was allowed to live this way.
If anything, it felt like I should apologize to every unhappy parent, every refugee, every sick person for my joy.
That thought stilled me. Why did I feel guilt for being content? I realized that shame was tied to the panic, paired beads on a string.
I felt ashamed because I did not think I should be this happy in a world so full of pain.
Contentment felt..self-indulgent. I felt like I should want something more. More difficult, more consequential. Making more of a difference, or feeling more useful. Changing the broken world more obviously.
The idea of trying to do any of that sounded terrifying—I didn’t know how, and it would require leaving my house even more. But did I matter—really matter—if I didn’t try harder? Wasn’t it lazy to be happy with what I had?
Those questions felt deeply real and also absurd. If a good friend asked me if it was okay to be content with her perfectly good life I would laugh and tell her of course and also recommend she schedule an appointment with her therapist. But for myself, “merely” ordinary felt like failure.
I considered this. Ordinary sounded—common, for one. Like consenting to being invisible. Or average, conventional, small–even slothful. Like settling.
I used to consult the Bible with my every deep question, but lately, I’ve been looking up etymologies instead. So I Googled the word ordinary.
Ordinary is related to the word order, unsurprisingly, but earlier roots meant “a row of threads in a loom.” Everything beautiful repeats in some way. To be ordinary is to be a part organized into a coherent whole: one bobble stitch in a pillow, one C-G link in a helix of DNA. Not unimportant, but regular, repeating, basic—foundational.
Also: ordinary as in ordained, which means “according to God’s purposes.” A God whose butt got wiped and cradled by his mother. A God who thought mothering was important enough to rearrange heaven and earth to experience it. A God who spent decades on earth crafting things by hand.
Everything beautiful repeats in some way.
It struck me that the panic said I should be more than who I actually am, bigger than my actual size, more intrepid than a person who eats exactly the same breakfast every morning for fifteen years. My panic was that I myself, as I was created, am a mistake. That if I do not work harder to be bigger, different, more, I’m ungrateful scum.
I breathed in and out, looking at the word ordinary. When, exactly, did it become an insult?
I dropped a stitch last night—missed a single bobble that formed the peak of a diamond. Normally I’m a good enough kind of crocheter, carrying on after mistakes, but it’s not possible with this pattern. A gap is like a missing tooth.
I undid the stitches to the missing bump and began again.