Picking up the thread

The first semester was a hectic one. I really should not be surprised by this every year, but all the same, it was good to reach the holidays. Today is the first day my brain decided to rejoin the land of the living, so I’ve done a quick review of tasks, and set priorities for what needs to be tackled this week (yes, methods chapter, I’m looking at you!). Now, I’m in the blog and writing up a few draft posts, and getting this one out before we hit a new decade. It seems an awfully long time since the last post in October 🙂

As always, I had plans for last week where I would finish some fun and creative writing tasks I was picking away at during the year. Instead, I slept and walked, sloowwwly recharging my spent MS battery. I thought about the papers still to read, but the PhD journey has seen me spending too much time at the screen, in the books and papers, and I knew I needed a different creative outlet. At least for this week…

That sent me to my grandmother’s sewing box and a needlepoint cushion I started in 2011. A lot has happened since then in my life. Completing my second MSc, being diagnosed with MS, and Dad dying were the big three for me, in addition to the many other things that impacted the lives of those I love. Through that time, the cushion sat in its package and waited. To begin with, my hands didn’t work well, so it was a reminder of how I was broken. Then, it came to hold too many memories of how life had changed from when I started it. At the end of the decade, it seemed like a good time to unfold it and get back to work. Time to pick up the thread from where I left off all that time ago.

I like listening to audio books when I’m stitching. There is a peaceful rhythm to stitching that fits well with listening, and the action of stitching stops me from nodding off – especially important when I’m end-of-semester weary! Instead of downloading an audio book from the library, this time I ventured into the wonderful world of BBC Sounds podcasts. This week, I have been listening to the Museum of Lost Objects, which traces the “histories of antiquities and landmarks that have been destroyed or looted in Iraq and Syria, India and Pakistan”. The aim and process of creating this virtual museum was to find some way to preserve the memories and images of the sites, objects and people lost.

I am just over half way through the episodes, and I look forward to what is yet to come. Each episode has introduced me to different people, landscapes and shared memories of places, people and objects that have been lost in a variety of ways. Some of the memories are heartbreaking, and some are joyful. The heartbreak is plain, from war, ongoing conflict, destruction, looting and loss. Places are described from the mind’s eye of those who walked through them, linked to the memories of fathers, brothers and friends who stayed to defend their lands and care for those who could not leave. For pure joy, there is Kanishk Tharoor’s granny telling the story of hiding in the bushes from Rabindranath Tagore and the wonderful laugh of Dr. Lamia Al-Gailani Werr as she describes the Sumerian goddess with a man for a chair.

As I listen to the episodes, I cry with those who have lost family members, and cheer when friends and family are reunited. I am awed by the strength of the people who share their stories and by the restoration work that people are undertaking. I smile at the survival of a guardian genie at Nimrud and the green man at Hatra, and I learn that Aleppo smelt of jasmine and honeysuckle and dew. I hear of amazing discoveries being made amidst the rubble, with unexpected finds in Nimrud. I hear that Humbaba was the king and guardian of the forest, and Gilgamesh made an ecological mistake when he killed him. I listen to Akkadian and laugh when writer and narrator Kanishk Tharoor tells Lord of the Rings fans not to get excited. I recognise the link between the shared stories and my PhD research, noting how people feel part of places, supported by the relationship with locations and objects, and speak of being saddened by the loss of their places almost as deeply as the loss of human loved ones.

As I listen, I am connected to those who are also picking up the threads, in a much deeper sense than I. As I stitch, I weave their stories into my needlepoint, and I heal a little more.


The Museum of Lost Objects –

with thanks to Maryam Maruf and Kanishk Tharoor

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