By Quiltfolk founder Michael McCormick

Quilts & Time

“‘We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.”

– Confucius

My entire adult life I’ve failed to find a hobby. It’s not for lack of effort. I’ve tried my hand at many things, and a handful of them I continue to enjoy with semi-regularity. But nothing has stuck and become my thing, a passion that I look forward to exploring whenever I have a free moment. 

I explained to my wife, Marisa, recently that my relationship with hobbies has been similar to my feelings toward eating fruit: if there’s a bowl in front of me, I enjoy it. But it’s rarely something I seek out (much to her dismay).

The great irony is that I publish Quiltfolk, a magazine that celebrates people who have found just that: a burning passion, one that has given them and others tremendous joy and satisfaction. I am a storyteller, not a quilter. But through hundreds of personal interviews, I have learned so much about the power found in productive hands, passionate pastimes, and the building of community with like-minded people. It’s truly beautiful, and I hope that our magazine encourages more people to try their hand at quilting, and with any luck, to find their thing.

One of my favorite people, Bets Ramsey working on a project in Issue 04: Tennessee.

But it was never for me. I don’t mean quilting specifically, but anything that took me away from my work or family. Leisure time was never a priority, so hobbies didn’t fit my agenda. If there was not a measurable return on investment for family or future, I wasn’t interested. 

I doubled down on this perspective about seven months ago when I became a father. After Cora was born, the very thought of taking time to do anything that wasn’t directly tied to her, my wife, my work, or sleep seemed irresponsible. Even selfish. 

But last week something unexpected happened that changed my point of view.

While visiting my in-laws for the Fourth of July, I noticed a jigsaw puzzle spread out on a table in the family room. Most of the pieces were laying upside down in a big pile. Only a few pieces were in place.

All it took was one look, and I was hooked!

Every free moment I had for the next few days was spent feverishly working on that puzzle. And while I didn’t finish it before we left, simply making a little progress gave me genuine joy and a sense of satisfaction that stuck with me for days after.

Will puzzles become my thing now? 

Perhaps. But more interesting to me was that for the first time, I was open to — even excited by — the idea of working for hours on something that didn’t have an obvious purpose or impact on the future. I was simply enjoying the challenge. My mind was busy solving the puzzle, but not the problems of the future. I was completely in the moment.

Confucius said, “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” On the surface this sounds like an imminent call to adventure. A warning to not waste a minute. But how do we define a moment well spent? And how does that definition change over time?

A smiling Cora plays on a quilt she received from the Quiltfolk team.

I have spent the first 33 years of my life with eyes fixed firmly upon the horizon, always wishing time would speed up so I could reach the next milestone. I was rarely in the moment, always running the real-time cost benefit of my every action. But now, as I watch my 7-month-old daughter grow older with every passing day, I am no longer in a hurry. In fact for the first time that I can remember, I am actively looking for ways to make the days feel a little longer. And for that reason, I found the puzzle (or it found me) at exactly the right time.

It’s counterintuitive, but the more we care about how time passes, the more valuable our pastimes become. It doesn’t matter if your passion makes time fly by or come to a halt. Finding something that captures your mind and holds it in the present moment removes time from the equation altogether. And that is a magical feeling. 

There is so much to appreciate about the quilting tradition, not the least of which is its ability to keep us grounded and in the present. Perhaps an upcoming Letter from Mike will not detail my parsing of puzzles, but patchwork instead. 

Until then,
Mike

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