I wasn’t planning to mend my son’s shorts. Goodness knows, the weekly battle to get him to surrender his favorite article of clothing to the laundry was bad enough. I hate to admit it, but a tiny part of me was looking forward to the day that scooting across concrete sidewalks on his bottom had its inevitable result.
But try explaining “threadbare” to a three-year-old as he points to the patched knees of your own jeans and asks, “Can’t you sew them just like yours?”
It’s true I devoted hours of quarantine to repairing my own jeans in the sashiko style, in which the slow act of mending is made even slower by embroidering the repair. In the process, I discovered a whole world of visible mending enthusiasts who use social media to swap both stitch patterns and also the philosophy behind their work. Mending, they assert, is a statement that we are more than what we consume. It protests against shoveling money into newer, better, trendier products as fast as possible, without regard to where the castaways pile up. It shows that we are more than mass-produced patterns and optimization algorithms attuned primarily to profit margins. That we can be creators and caretakers, conserving what is dear to us.
Above all, visible mending is an act of grace. Instead of hiding the flaws of a worn-out garment, mending proclaims to the world just how well this garment is loved. And that love, lingering fondly over the uniqueness of its story, is what makes it beautiful.
So now I find myself spending a slow Sunday afternoon on the porch embroidering a tiny pair of athleticwear basketball shorts, which itself feels rather like a contradiction. The ultra-performance nylon-mesh world is not meant for mending. Athletics is all about leaving behind that which holds you back, and flaws hold you back. The pursuit of what is leaner and sleeker leaves no time to consider the fate of last year’s model—that what is ultra-performance is necessarily disposable when something better comes along.
But these shorts mean none of that to my son. They are gentle around the waist, soft to the touch. That is their weakness, but also all the reason he needs to love them. He dreads the weekly recurrence of laundry day, when he has to be separated from them for a whole two hours while they undergo the ordeal of washing. He doesn’t care that I had to scavenge a worn-out swimsuit in the wrong color to put huge mismatched patches on the seat. Anything to delay having to throw them away.
Which kind of world do we humans belong to? We are capable of great progress, outdoing our own expectations, making things newer and better than they have ever been. But we are also prone to flaws, to wearing thin, to breaking under strain. I wonder which of these tiny, careful stitches I’m making won’t hold up under playtime conditions. But the beauty of stitches is that there are so many of them. If a few give way, plenty of others will take up the strain.
We are kidding ourselves if we believe we are always like the new shorts, never the ripped ones ready to be cast aside. Not even the high achievers among us are made to be ultra-performance athleticwear. We are soft around the edges, liable to fray, vulnerable to other things that are soft and beautiful, that awaken our love. But that does not make us disposable: we know in our bones that we should belong to a world where things are worth mending, a world of Sunday rest where there would always be time enough to make loved things beautiful.
We know in our bones that we should belong to a world where things are worth mending, a world of Sunday rest where there would always be time enough to make loved things beautiful. Laura Trimble
This is not that world. In the quiet of my mending, I can hear the Sisyphean soundtrack of performance humming in the distance, on the highway, on train tracks, overhead. I think of the devastating Oregon wildfires that barricaded us in our houses this fall with the smoke of a harried world burning itself out in its haste. I think of the dark promise, oddly consoling in its honesty, that this world and everything in it will wear out someday like a garment. “You will change them like a robe and they will pass away,” says the singer of Psalm 102, “but you are the same and your years have no end.” The very next psalm hints that the objects of God’s love will nevertheless endure: even though humanity withers like grass, somehow “from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.” It is those He holds in remembrance who outlast the decay to which all human efforts must succumb. Jorge Louis Borges, in his poem “Everness,” calls it God’s “prophetic memory” that “guards from loss” those things which He deems worth remembering. Only because of the divine love that notices, that remembers, is anything everlasting. Especially us.
For ten dollars and free two-day shipping, I could replace my son’s shorts. Or at the cost of two days’ worth of spare time, I can show my son he is loved so much that whatever he loves becomes worthy of my attention, too. God could have just replaced us and all of His world at far less of a cost than the cost of redemption. But He would rather have us, broken bits and all, with the marks of mending all over us, to show that it was worth any cost to Him not to throw us away. And that story makes us beautiful.
I wouldn’t be mending these shorts otherwise.