This morning in the shower when I closed my eyes, warm water running down my face and over my body, I pictured a knot. What I saw was tight. Like the lovely mobile with handcut wooden letters spelling out A-V-I-V-A, surrounded by perfectly balanced paper cranes, that a friend made when she was born and that after several moves became so tangled that undoing the knots of fine thread became hopeless. The tangle of a fine chain that you can work at for hours and can’t loosen, or the shoulder snarl of tension that shoots up to my temples when I get a migraine.
Tying the knot, I thought, as I dried off and got dressed, evoked tightness, disorder, frustration, and constraint, rather than the awake intertwining of weaving lives and hearts.
I brought this up with Mani on the deck a while later, drinking coffee together before getting to work. I told her I wasn’t sure how I felt about this knot-tying business, not meaning marriage itself but the image, the feeling of it.
She quickly pointed out the kinds of knot a sailor makes to secure an anchor, or that rock climbers use to belay their partner. The distinction between knot as unconsciously pulled tight and knot as artful and purposeful landed perfectly. Just talking about it, I began to feel lighter, secure.
A good knot, if you know how to make it and when to adjust it, can mean the difference between life and death. Like a good relationship, it offers both space and safety. Rather than a symbol of confinement, it can be an I’ve-got-your-back kind of tethering that allows each person to climb vertical pitches and sail wild seas, the rope as slack or as taut as circumstances require, by turns flexible and generous, reliable and strong.
Now that, I told her, is the kind of knot-tying I can get behind. It allows for the vulnerability of being seen, of not hiding a thing even when it’s hard to translate a heart into words. It can be communicated through a glance or a squeeze of the hand. It assures: I will neither hold you back nor let you fall. It is the opposite of tension. It takes bravery, patience, and most of all, practice.
Tying the knot should not feel like entanglement, because entanglement is not love and love is not something that constricts. Indeed, that kind of knot feels like something you could lose your mind fighting against. No, truly tying the knot requires a sure, steady hand and room to breathe, as close or as wide as each person needs. And that is what I intend to do, who and how I want to be, in marriage, and in life.
Image credit: North Carolina Upward Bound