It was a big moment in sewing class today. Debi Papazian finished her rakusu! She is the first in our group to successfully complete the face, straps and envelope, and is now an official sewing graduate.
There are nine of us, seven from the Healdsburg sangha, who have been meeting weekly on Sundays since October to work on our rakusu in preparation for jukai, or Zen lay ordination, which is scheduled for August.
When our sewing teacher Connie Ayers first said we would probably be meeting through February, I thought, geez, it won't take that long! This flippancy, however, was born of naivete. It arose from a place of ignorance, before I was properly introduced to the myriad intricacies, convoluted patterns and layers upon layers of stitches that comprise a Zen rakusu.
As you can see by my rakusu, pictured above, I am not quite ready to graduate. Now, February seems alarmingly close at hand. I have been assured (repeatedly) that this is not a race. What do you mean, not a race? It's a class, right? Classes are contests! That's what I did throughout my academic life - enroll, study hard, excel, revel in the high grades.
Well, with a couple of exceptions, of course. There was that disastrous home economics course my mother forced me to take in ninth grade. I somehow skated through the cooking portion, because we were assigned to teams. On my team, the other two girls cooked, and I ate what they cooked. It worked beautifully. Unfortunately, when it was time to sew, I didn't get to share my A-line skirt with someone else. I had to make my own. Let's just say "horrid," and leave it at that. I haven't been near a needle since.
That is, until October. And here I am, spending my Sunday afternoons sewing. (The only person more incredulous than me about this whole state of affairs is my mother. Every time I see her lately, she says, "And you're sewing!" Then she shakes her head, clearly wondering what other surprises the universe has in store for her.)
What I am truly beginning to appreciate through this experience is the nature of the student/teacher relationship. Connie has been so patient, and so gentle in her tutelage, moving from person to person around the room. Barely a moment goes by without one of us raising our hand in the air and whimpering, "Connie, can I be next?" When one is confidently stitching away, her neighbor has just knotted her thread in the wrong spot. As another masters the art of pinning, his neighbor finds he has mistakenly sewn through three layers of cloth instead of the aimed-for two. None of us are ever at exactly the same place at exactly the same time. And yet, somehow, Connie manages to keep us all occupied, soothed, supported, challenged, and committed. Now, that's a teacher.
So I'm not at the head of the class. I'm learning it feels pretty darn good simply to be showing up.