The Nettle Knitter
On being quixotic
There is a category of people I like to call “the nettle knitters”. It stems from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale called The Twelve Swans, one of my favorites.
Andersen’s tale of The Twelve Swans is weird. There will be no Disney movies or musicals made about the orphaned princess who is doomed to knit shirts out of nettle fibers that she must source herself, so that she can lift the curse off her twelve brothers turned into swans by an evil stepmother, all the while without being allowed to utter a sound. She herself is mute like a swan.
But maybe there is no better metaphor conveying the determination of those humans who seem to have a life mission, whose drive and motivation cannot be explained, who work tirelessly, most of the time away from the public eye, at a task that seems hopeless, or at great risk. Usually, these individuals do not need public validation. A lot of times, the odds are against them. Their unfinished work often cannot even be exposed, or exposing it too early would render it moot.
The inner strength of these people who seem to be playing it all on one card or are unafraid of going against the stream is unsurpassed. They are not motivated by fame or fortune. They do it because it is what gives them meaning.
The princess in The Twelve Swans is forbidden from speaking, lest her work, done with great pain and at great peril, be lost. She cannot fend for herself when she is accused of witchcraft. On the way to the stake, she keeps working at the last shirt, while the public boos and condemns her.
This tale ends happily, with the twelve swan brothers turned back into humans at the last moment, with the exception of the youngest. One of his sleeves doesn’t get to be sewn in time, so his left arm remains in the shape of a swan wing - a forever reminder of how things were once.
There will always be unexpected heroes whose works cannot and should not be available to public scrutiny, even if they themselves might be hiding in plain sight. Some of the most disgraced characters might be part of a ploy whose inner workings are not to be known. Especially in these times, public expectations need to be managed. Otherwise, the “nettle knitters”, whose enigmatic endeavors have the power to “lift the curses” of villains, might fail.