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Soul Repair

Photo by Susan Perez

The faded cotton robe is old and frayed, so threadbare it can scarcely hold a patch.  I carefully pin the fabric, hoping it won’t tear when I sew the pieces together.  It holds.  The old man smiles gratefully; I let out a sigh of relief.  Around me the metallic rumble of 4 sewing machines provides the sound track as I take a sip of water and pick up the next item.

Thirty years of cerebral toil in the academic trenches leaves me thought-weary and craving the use of my hands for craft, not for pecking out words.  I am volunteering at a repair event. The skills I bring are modest at best.  And yet I find enormous satisfaction in doing this simple thing of mending clothes. I feel competent, in command, even hip.

Never mind that my old Singer portable rattles like an old jalopy; it works fine for hemming, stitching, patching. Elsewhere in the spacious room a volunteer takes apart a toaster while another sharpens scissors on a small sanding belt; a new clasp makes a necklace whole again while a broken bike is hoisted onto a stand.  Let no object enter a landfill that can be saved.

I smile earnestly at a new customer, a young woman in a hurry.  “My parking meter runs out soon so please be quick,” she says.  Of course she would hand me a zipper to fix, one of the most complicated tasks that many workers refuse to accept.  I take my time to do it right, and the client becomes agitated.  I don’t react.  I have entered the sweet, serene sewing zone.  The woman makes it out the door just in time, repaired dress in bag.  I sigh even louder this time, and gulp down more water.

By the end of my three-hour shift, I have repaired six garments. I am tired and weary, but feel incredibly accomplished.  After-visions of seams coming together, threading needles, hand stitching, edges trimmed, all blur together in a soothing balm.  The background din recedes.  I can relax because I have done enough.

Reprinted from Oregon Humanities, Spring 2015, p. 40.


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