The Tapestry of Life

Since my mother-in-law died a year ago my husband has made connections with two half brothers he did not know existed.  On this journey of family discovery he also reconnected with cousins he hadn’t seen for nearly fifty years and has come to see his mother’s life in a new light.  He never really knew this woman he knew all his life. He could not see her clearly because she kept so many things in her life closed off.  The discovery and adding of family members has been a positive experience, adding  new threads to the tapestry of our life, threads now woven in and connected to the body of our family as a whole.

Interestingly, tapestries–those heavy weavings that tell a story–are traditionally woven from the back, picture side down, facing the ground.  The tapestry’s intricate design is sketched onto the warp–the tightly stretched, lengthwise threads on the loom,   The cross colors are woven through the warp in a disassociated weft. Disassociated wefts are threads that don’t go the full distance from selvage to selvage but instead remain in their own territory or color zone overlapping on the outer edges, holding separate territories together as part of the whole.  When the weaving is finished the warp, which provides support and structure, holds the tapestry together, but it is completely covered by the weft’s colorful threads. The warp can’t be seen in the finished product.

Watching the weaver at work, we have to trust in his creative abilities and skill.  We may watch as he combines, for example, two threads of different colors, side by side in the pattern.  Only in the finished product will we see that the two threads laid in together have combined to form a new and unique color, adding richness and variety to the work.

Generally wool threads are used in tapestries, with their unique texture, weight, and resilience, but silk or gilt threads may be added, threads that are smoother, longer and shinier than wool.  The silk threads catch the light, the gilt threads catch more light. Those threads of Guilt may add richness and light, but too much guilt can destroy the design. So we stand and watch the colors, the threads, the movements in and out, back and forth as the weaver works.

But we do not see the design, the pattern forming as the threads are woven in–we only see the warp. Why does the weaver use that thread, those colors?  We question what we can’t see.  How can something beautiful be created from this particular combination?

It is only in the finished product that the design becomes apparent.

There in the finished product we see things we couldn’t imagined with our previously limited perspective.  Oh, look at the family in the center.  It is not how I imagined it would be.  There are children I didn’t know before.  But now they are a part of the whole. Is that my mother?  She is different from the woman I thought I knew.  My sympathies for her are deep and real, but she is no longer with us.

Look at that spiral, that swipe of dark red through the heart of the design.  There is suffering in this work that I did not experience. There will be time to weave in the joys and sorrows  of my own tapestry. The finished work is  so much more than what we imagined  with our limited view from behind the master weaver’s work.  It is beautiful and painful and hopeful all together and depending where we look.

Here I see the whole family.  There I see pieces on the corners that are part of the whole.  We couldn’t see them before because we didn’t know where to look.  But now, as we look over  the finished tapestry we are see what had been gaps, beautifully filled in.

Yet even as we stand studying the finished piece the master continues weaving, and tapestries fall from his loom encompassing  lives, bringing us the stories we could not tell.

When the weaver finishes his work someday, perhaps it will all be clear.

But for now we have visits to make, and stories to tell.  Who would have imagined the surprises life holds!



About Karen Hopkins

Karen Hopkins (1949-) was born in Los Angeles and raised in Martinez, California. At seventeen she moved to Talcahuano, Chile. After completing her university degree she worked in London, England for Pan American Airlines and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India. For twenty-six years Karen taught Spanish and English as a Second Language in a variety of settings including a private school in Panama, the "most remote school in the United States" in Ticaboo, Utah, the Navajo Reservation, and a teacher exchange in Hermosillo, Mexico. Karen and her husband traveled extensively throughout Mexico and Central America, spending many summers in the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala . Karen currently lives in Southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.
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