What was this woman, who lived halfway across the world from me, trying to say? I couldn’t speak her language (Estonian) and she could speak only a few words of mine (English). By many people’s standards, we could not communicate. But she seemed to think we could understand one another as she took my hand and placed it on various pieces of fiber art she had created.
My husband and I were with a tour group as part of our recent trip to the Baltic Sea, where we visited several countries. In each place we were delighted to eat the food, hear the history and try, even in a limited amount of time, to soak up what we could of the culture.
Estonia’s history is full of stories of occupation, loss and violence perpetrated by other countries, including Russia. Despite the scars, the people are proud of their resilience and that they eventually gained independence and maintained their own identity through language, music, architecture and fine art.
As we toured the house (manor) with its expansive grounds, we heard about owners of the property. They were forced to leave during the Russian siege in the1940’s. One of the owners returned to her home around 1991, when Estonia became independent of Russia.
We didn’t see the owner until the end of our house tour. When we did meet her, she was seated at her loom and weaving a blanket. Questions were asked and answered through an interpreter for several minutes. Then most of the tour participants moved outside to view the sprawling manor grounds.
I stayed back, captivated by her handiwork. As a knitter and embroidery enthusiast, I was riveted to the work before me. She noticed my interest and came to join me. As others looked at the grounds, trees and nearby buildings, I walked from table to table admiring embroidered pieces, handmade lace and many woven lap robes made from fox fur and linen strips.
We were silent until she took my hand and guided me to an oil painting of a young woman, a man and two children – a boy and a girl. She put her hands to her chest and said, “Before.”
“You?” I asked.
She smiled, nodded and whispered, “Before.”
My eyes lingered on her as she gazed upon the painting. She wasn’t aware of me searching her face and eyes. I wanted to know what she felt. Was she sad, angry, resentful, defeated or regretful? No, none of those were in her sweet, calm countenance. Instead I soaked in the presence of acceptance, loving memories and peace. I sensed that she treasured the past but did not live there – either in the joy or pain. Her life was here, and now. I believe that is what she was trying to tell me.
She noticed me looking at her and blushed. Then she motioned for me to join her at a large table where she opened a book and handed me a pen. “Sign please?”
I wrote my name, where I live and a blessing. We smiled, held hands and shared a moment of heart to heart connection. She handed me an apple from one of her trees, beaming as she offered this treasure. I gratefully accepted it as if it was fine gold. To me it was.
We couldn’t speak the same language or discuss anything that the world would consider relevant or important. But in those few moments of shared artistic inspiration and expression, I was allowed into her world – the past and the present. We were in a space void of politics, religion, language or nationality. And it was more than okay with us.
As our tour bus left the grounds, I looked back to see her on the front porch and waving. I waved back and clutched the apple to my breast wondering how many people come on this tour each year, look at the obvious but don’t spend time trying to find out who she is and was. I’m beyond grateful that God granted us just the briefest moment of connection because we share love of fiber arts. I leaned back in my seat and rested in the knowledge that through smiling eyes, an extra moment of lingering and the human touch, we each recognized another citizen of the world.
Copyright Sept 2019 Laura L. Padgett, Lakewood, CO
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