The Mass Ave. bridge is the longest bridge in Boston. It straddles the Charles River and joins the Back Bay area with the part of Cambridge home to the revered and intimidating nerd factory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Just walking over the bridge elevates your neurons. Painted numbers appear on the concreted in six-foot intervals called “Smoots,” named for Oliver Smoot a pledge in the 1958 class of students rushing MIT’s Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. As a stunt, Smoot’s brothers used the hopeful (and probably a little inebriated) pledge as a human yardstick, laying him down to mark the span of the bridge in “Smoot-lengths.” It’s 364 Smoots “plus one ear” in case you’re wondering. The future nixers of cancers and creators of the nano-technology that will allow us to colonize Mars one day have to get their kicks somehow.
It’s a beautiful stretch of real estate that gives you views of the gold-topped dome of the state house, the monolithic Hancock Tower and Prudential Center buildings, and the iconic Citgo sign that watches over Fenway Park territory. I had gone a little more than half way when I saw a colorful patch of yarn fixed to one of the bridge’s iron slats. Next to it was another—orange and yellow and blue stretched between the rungs like a fuzzy spider web. Further on knit pieces of soft green lifting a slightly in the breeze as if it were bits of floating seaweed. The bridge had been yarn bombed.
Yarn bombing is a kind of craft graffiti where badass creatives install knit or crochet pieces on organic and manmade structures like trees and lampposts and fences and bridges. It’s a way to inject some beauty and whimsy into spaces that are typically seen as functional, innocuous, or even industrial. Cheaper and less ruinous than paint graffiti, yarn bombing feels like gentle anarchy. The kind of merry pollution unleashed by the Muppets. Yarn bombers also knit up spaces, spinning Technicolor tendons that join gaps together, that cover the rough patches of rust and wear with soft, new synthetic skin.
The chapel annex was a miniature version of the church–several rows of pews backed up from a short altar, statues in the traditional Catholic iconography stood on marble pedestals, and stained glass windows washed in thirsty purples and verdant greens lined each wall. Just outside the doors of the chapel were a collection of crutches and canes neatly displayed like a prize rifle collection. My friend explained that over centuries people have come to believe the church exists on sacred land and that many have been healed on site, leaving behind the accessories of their formerly maligned bodies. Maybe it’s a nice touch of theatrics—the crutches discarded at the entrance like umbrellas abandoned after a rainstorm—maybe they are literal testimonies to an unseen, unknowable power. Belief is what we need it to be from moment to moment. What I felt standing in the hushed, humid space of the chapel was a longing for wholeness.
I survey the gear next to the chapel’s doors and I imagine a woman who visited, hobbling painfully from some kind of foot injury into the church to pray. Hours later she leaves, ditching her cane and slipping into a state of ecstatic freedom. Did she go home to a lonely house? An abusive lover? Was her relationship with her mother still strained? Did she still miss her sister? Her children? We can repair our bodies, but that doesn’t make us whole. We can suture wounds, but the scar remains, the mark that signifies that something has been taken from us, that we are forever altered. Wholeness is the lie we distract ourselves with to avoid the slow, painful, sweet, perpetual work of healing. We’re yarn bombing our lives when we wrap up the ugly, the hurt, the imperfect and call that fixed or better.
It’s a sexy thing, the idea of completeness. It makes us think we can immunize ourselves against suffering, that growth won’t scrape, that change will run off us the way snow melt slides down the rock face in spring. We’d like to believe we can just arrive in a state of perfection—body, mind, soul.
The reality is that we are always somewhere between the crutches and the yarn bomber’s threads spooled around the world’s everyday objects in our put-togetherness. There are places we hold inside ourselves that are weak and broken, that need propping up; there are other places that we aren’t ready to expose because they are too raw or too real or too new so we wrap ourselves in beautiful, bold bandages while we listen and watch to see what our desire to repair have to teach us about the journey of healing.