Sitting quietly in a corner, the mending lady continued with her darning as the medical students arrived, suitably kitted out and making irreverent jokes to hide their nervousness. This was the first day of invasive surgical procedures on a corpse and the students were fervently hoping that no one would feel squeamish or faint. Finally someone whispered to the mending lady, “Have you come to show us how to stitch up afterwards?” “No, I’m here to mend any of your favourite things that have become a bit worn through.” The initial bewildered silence evolved into a ripple of relaxed negotiations. The incongruity of the reply had injected a homely normality into a tense, even bizarre situation and restored purpose with bonhomie.

The mending lady does not work on recycling. She takes the view that favourite garments become imbued with value linked to personal history and enriched by sentimental association. They may simply be particularly comfortable or in an attractive colour, or more deeply evocative of landmark memories in life.

Mending time can be spent exchanging stories about why an item is valued or about the events it revives. Mending, darning and knitting together has traditionally offered an opportunity to discuss situations informally whilst doing something constructive. There develops an intimacy around the group where the participants feel safe to reveal concerns and to share experiences and offer advice or support.

Some church and community groups have managed to re-create these get together times, but in our frenetic modern world, it takes dedicated organization to do so, rather than it being part of the natural flow of life as in some ethnic societies.

If you have tuned in to the Repair Shop series on BBC 2, you may have concurred with the joy and gratitude expressed by owners of treasures restored to functioning order or former glory. As a gratifying, even therapeutic activity, restoration seems to be hard-wired into our human system, requiring patience, problem-solving and practiced skills, but rewarding with confidence and self-respect. It turns a spotlight on a wasteful throw-away culture.

When bodies meet with accidents, we have the immediate impulse to seek ways and means to restore health and wholeness as quickly as possible. We rightly hail as heroes those who have been deprived by some means, of natural wholeness, but who refuse to be daunted. With inner strength and courage they pursue goals and achieve miracles that inspire us all.

Sometimes the physical traumas are more readily overcome than the deeply rooted emotional suffering that leaves invisible scars on the psyche. The Apostle Paul touches on these matters when he calls himself, “the chief of sinners.” As a religious zealot, he had persecuted real people, broken up real families and watched the actual stoning to death of Stephen. With these memories always fresh in his mind, he cast himself entirely on the grace and mercy of God. Writing to the Colossian converts, Paul encouraged them with the assurances that comforted him and strengthened his faith. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

In a little booklet called Wayside Wells, a poet wrote wistfully,

“Oh to go back across the years long vanished;
To have the words unsaid, the deeds undone;
The errors cancelled, the deep shadows banished
In the glad sense of a new world begun.”

If faith becomes weary, with worn-out holes and ragged edges, something can be done to restore it. God never throws away our tried and tested faith. Instead, he patiently ministers his healing, strengthening touch and sends us out with a new lease of life.


Iris Niven

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