For the last four years, our daughter Odia, an artist, has been crocheting little patches of wool, one after the other – cream coloured, simple patches that looked a little like misshapen pot holders.
She told us that she was crocheting 490 tears to portray her understanding of the answer to Peter’s question: “Sir, how often should I forgive someone who has sinned against me?”
Christ’s answer had been 70 times seven, an answer hard to comprehend, given the enormous victimization some people endure. Odia has endured her share, not only from her sister Candace being murdered 24 years ago, but from other losses and pain as well.
She was determined to finish those tears, then to suspend them from a frame, seven by seven, hung seven feet off the ground, to create a perfect cube. She wanted to crochet each tear by hand without any pattern, making each one unique, a reflection of the moment of creation.
Some tears are huge and chubby, some are long and thin, others tiny. She chose the colour cream because she wanted them to symbolize the purity of such pain.
The installation would be hung at “Standing: a journey of resilience,” an art gallery show I was planning as part of the Victims’ Voice program at Mennonite Central Committee.
As the opening drew closer, Odia started to pick up the pace in crocheting the last 100.
It became apparent then that 490 tears is a lot of tears. I noticed how often she would count them to make sure each one was accounted for.
When she completed each tear, Odia would pause and enjoy it for a moment. She often called the tears “my cuties.” Some of them were quite odd by the time we finished stuffing them. But she loved each one.
Toward the end, the stuffing of the tears became a challenge. I offered to help, and she let me, with reluctance. I took one bag of tears to church. Sitting in the congregation, the songs wafting over me, I felt the power of those tears. I succumbed.
It is always good to cry. And I wondered what my daughter had been feeling over the last four years, constantly crocheting tears.
Three days before the show, all 490 tears had to be strung up with fishing line – invisible, except when the light shone on it. Then the lines became silver streams, creating a glistening halo around the tears.
At two in the morning, when we finally finished, we were astounded at the power of the vision of 490 tears floating, their shadows playing on the white wall and floor, doubling the effect. The power of their combined presence told a story like nothing else could. Even though we were dead tired, we sat mesmerized under its spell for a long time.
“It’s a day’s worth,” she used to say when I commented on the number. “It’s only a day’s worth…”
Can you imagine the number of forgiveness-tears required over 24 years? No wonder God made tears, the symbol of grief, out of salt water, recyclable, because if we were to actually live with the reality of sorrow in our hearts – woollen crocheted tears – we would eventually suffocate under the mass.
Thanks to my daughter, I now carry a picture of what it takes to work through the grief of forgiveness before we can move on into happiness and freedom.
Wilma Derksen is director of Victims’ Voice of Mennonite Central Committee, based in Winnipeg. Cliff and Wilma Derksen and their children lost their daughter and sister Candace to murder in 1984; an arrest was finally made 23 years later. The preliminary trial is pending. This piece is adapted from a regular column Derksen writes at the Victims’ Voice website: ww.mylemonade.org.
Odia R. Reimer lives in Altona, Man., where she works for DW Friesens. She has a bachelor of fine arts degree and has exhibited her work in a number of Winnipeg galleries.