Part of the "excitement" of getting married in the United States (and I would think in many other places it is similar) is going to the Social Security Administration office to legally change your name. It is one of those final steps to creating your own family should you chose to take your husband's last name or do as I did and hyphenate. It is an event that can inspire thoughts on the nature of identity and the ever evolving and beautiful uniqueness of what makes a family.
It is also an event that involves fights for parking spots and really long lines in a lobby full of people who are there for less exciting and much more life changing paperwork. There are people there from all different ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages (not to mention health). There was a grandmother working on her custody battle for her grandchildren, a young pregnant mother applying for food stamps, and a mental health patient who was struggling to wait her turn while terrified of the people around her.
Into this glimpse of humanity I brought my knitting. While others fidgeted and read, I sat silently, respecting the no electronics rule and working on the front to my Holla Back Tank.
What I quickly realized but tried to ignore was that the one empty chair I managed to snag was actually facing the crowed, rather than lost in its midst. And when you are facing everyone, they quickly take note of what you are doing.
First a man about my age tried to catch my eye from a few rows back. He was there assisting an older gentleman, and so in my mind he was the grandson, driving his grandfather on errands and helping him with paperwork. He mouthed to me "What are you making?" I told him a sweater and waited for some kind of adverse reaction. Instead he simply smiled, nodded, and gave me a thumbs up. He went back to chatting with the older lady who had come in to sit next to him and I returned to my knitting, pleased to know that at least someone outside my sphere of influence thinks that knitting is cool enough to merit a thumbs up.
About ten minutes later I heard the older gentleman across from me tell the girl he came in with "You know, she's not even looking." I glanced up at him, smiled, and went back to my knitting, which he took to be an invitation to start a conversation.
Gentleman: "How long have you been doing that?" (gestures to the knitting)
Me: "Oh, a few years."
"What are you making?"
"How long will it take you?"
"A few weeks, maybe?" (if I only knit on this and only this)
"Wow. You're not even looking. If I tried to do that it would look like this" He gestures diagonally across his midsection to indicate an asymmetrical hem.
At this point we had the attention of the family sitting next to us. I grinned at him and told him that this may be the case but at least he'd be fashionable. The oldest daughter started giggling at this remark. They had a good laugh with the gentleman and then we all went back to what we were doing. Pretty soon my name was called and I went to the window to take on a new identity.
What I found fascinating about this exchange was a few things. First, no one was shocked that I was knitting. No one made comments about how unusual it was, or asked if I was pregnant. The only part they found different was the fact that I could make eye contact with them without stopping. At the same time, they were extremely friendly. Despite the fact many were obviously there for unpleasant reasons, they all smiled, joked with each other, and expressed a genuine interest in passing the time together as amicably as possible.
I don't know if I happened to stumble into an odd crowd of knitting relatives or just happened upon the most pleasant government waiting room ever. But I like to think that maybe, just maybe, knitters are starting to be recognized. That the kindness and peace many knitters maintain (many maybe because of their knitting) has started to impact those around them. Either way, it gave me hope for the world at large. That even in some very dire circumstances, people can still smile. And if I can help pass the time for someone who is dealing with paperwork that is less than pleasant, I feel I have done something worthy with my day.