Everything happens for a reason, and sometimes things help us clarify and articulate what matters and what we – what our life – is all about . . . 

“Last year we had 12 volunteers, this year we have only 9,” she was saying as I walked in. “I asked for 12, but I only got you, so people will just have to wait because we are NOT going to rush. Hey, you can’t be in here,” she barks when she sees me slip quietly into the room.

“But I signed up to help,” I tell her.

“What’s your name?”

“Jeanne Hewell-Chambers.”

“Who ARE you?” she asks loudly.

And with that, the 6-8 other women around her begin to giggle.

“I’m Jeanne Hewell-Chambers,” I tell her again.

“And YOU volunteered to HELP?”

The women don’t know whether to look at me or her, but they all know how to laugh in either direction.

“Yes,” I say, my voice now almost at a whisper.

More laughter, then she says with a sigh and rolling eyes, “Okay then” and joins in the laughter with them, shrugging her shoulders as if to say “whatever”.

Though it certainly feels like it, this is not the 7th grade playground. This is a quilt show just a few days ago. I officially belong to this organization (even though I’ve never been able to attend a meeting because the drive is 1.5 hours each way), but because part of the membership requirements are to work at the annual quilt show, I raise my hand and show up at the appointed time.

Staying in the back of the room by myself near the exit door, I work the entire shift, frequently fantasizing about walking right on out the door and never looking back, but I have two quilts to pick up, and besides, I gave my word and, as we now know,  they are short-handed, so I stay and work. Three hours later on the walk to the car, I physically brush myself off and do a little shimmy – my way of slipping out of the negativity and leave it there.

We stop for a nice supper, The Engineer and I, and when we get home, I remove the quilt show tags and open two envelopes that my novice brain thinks contain a renewal notice and a thank-you-for-helping note.

But no.

quilt1aquiltshow2016amended

The 70273 Project, Quilt 1 is one of the quilts I entered, explaining in my artist statement that people from around the world are making 70,273 quilt blocks to commemorate the 70,273 disabled people who were murdered in Germany between 1940-41. White bases represent the medical records on which evaluations were made, and the two red X’s represent the death sentences. The judges’ feedback is that the blocks are not the same size, causing the quilting lines to be askew.

communion14aquiltshow2016amended

The other quilt I entered is Communion 2, a visual interpretation of a conversation with my mentally disabled sister-in-law, Nancy. The judges’ feedback is that while the hand stitching is okay, the quilt should be square, sides straight, and there should be no exposed raw edges on the fabric used in the quilt.

Though I’ve attended many quilt shows, this is the first time I’ve participated, and the judging is a surprise to me. I feel quite sure that the judges are expert quilters – as expertly talented and knowledgeable as every person who had a hand in creating The 70273 Project, Quilt 1. I am also keen on believing that the judges weren’t privy to information about each quilt before judging . . . but still. Had there been an option on the submission form giving me a choice of having my quilts be judged or not, I could have saved the judges some time and me some angst. Their words sting. It hurts to be misunderstood, to be told you’re less than . . . and the thing is that though I do admittedly feel a tiny bit bruised, my ire comes from the disrespect shown – intentionally or no – to Nancy, to Kitty, to MJ (the Piecer and Quilter for Quilt 1), to those who made and continue to make blocks for The 70273 Project, and always, always, always for those we commemorate and celebrate. It’s this setting aside, this overlooking, this dismissive behavior we are standing up to here in this project.

Now I’m not saying that it’s what The Woman In Charge Of Volunteers or The Judges were doing – in fact, I feel pretty sure that the judges have to adhere to a set of quantifiable, measurable rules and standards (and I still maintain that it would’ve been nice to be able to opt out) – but I am saying that I will never understand why some people make themselves feel better and bigger (as in more powerful) by stomping on and squishing others.

And let’s be honest: we all know people who people like this.

Such behavior seems to me a shallow, temporary way to fill your Self . . . like a sugar rush that brings a burst of energy followed quickly by lethargy. On the other hand, people who fill themselves by doing good work – who spend every day spilling caring, kindness, and compassion everywhere they go – these people have no need to belittle or begrudge others because they fill themselves up with Things That Count. It’s easy for people who know how to fill themselves in lasting ways to accept differences in personalities, in preferences, in creations, to see value in every human and every creation.

I hope that makes sense.

I’m not saying we have to like every single quilter, but how hard is it to be pleasant and appreciative (even when tired at the end of a quilt show)? And I’m not saying we need to like every single quilt, but how hard is it to be encouraging, to find something good to say (or at least ask a question to show interest and willingness to See), even if it’s not our preferred style of quilt?

Before long, I’ll open an envelope with a form requesting my renewal dues. I think I’ll spend that money buying fabric for a new piece in the Communion Series  and takingThe Engineer out for a good dinner – complete with a glass of wine – on our way home after attending next year’s quilt show as spectators who love marveling at and being in the presence of quilts (and each other).