Something From Nothing

There is a wonderful story that is variously called something from nothing, or sometimes Sara’s coat. I’ve tweaked it a bit here and inserted Sophie, but the basic storyline remains faithful to a telling I found from Colin Gibson. At its core, this is a Yiddish story of transformations, of hope, of faith and of actions.

When Sara was a baby, her grandmother (who was a tailor) made her a wonderful coat to keep her warm and dry.

But as Sara grew older the wonderful coat grew older too.

One day her mother said to her, ‘Sara, look at your coat. It’s frazzled and it’s worn and it’s unsightly and it’s torn. It is time to throw it away.’

‘Grandma can fix it’, Sara said.

So Sara’s grandmother took the little coat and turned it round and round. ‘Hmmm,’ she said as her scissors went snip snap and her needle flew in and out,’ there’s just enough material to make a wonderful jacket. Sara put on the wonderful jacket and went outside to play.

But as Sara grew older the wonderful jacket grew older too.

One day her mother said to her, ‘Sara, look at your jacket. It’s shrunken and small, doesn’t fit you at all. It is time to throw it out.’

‘Grandma can fix it’, Sara said.

Sara’s grandmother took the jacket and turned it round and round. ‘Hmmm,’ she said as her scissors went snip snap and her needle flew in and out,’ there’s just enough material to make a wonderful vest. Sara put on the wonderful vest and wore it to school the very next day. She was so proud of it she wore it all the time.

But as Sara grew older the wonderful vest grew older too.

One day her mother said to her, ‘Sara, look at your vest. It’s spotted with glue and there’s paint on it too. It is time to throw it out.’

‘Grandma can fix it’, Sara said.

So Sara’s grandmother took the vest and turned it round and round. ‘Hmmm,’ she said as her scissors went snip snap and her needle flew in and out,’ there’s just enough material to make a wonderful tie. Sara wore the wonderful tie to her grandparents’ house every Friday.

But as Sara grew older the wonderful tie grew older too.

One day her mother said to her, ‘Sara, look at your tie. This big stain of soup makes the end of it droop. It is time to throw it out.’

‘Grandma can fix it’, Sara said.

Sara’s grandmother took the tie and turned it round and round. ‘Hmmm,’ she said as her scissors went snip snap and her needle flew in and out,’ there’s just enough material to make a wonderful button. Sara wore the wonderful button on her sweater to hold her to keep it close around her.

One day her mother said to hedr, ‘Sara, where is your button?’

Sara looked. It was gone.

She searched everywhere but she could not find it. Sara ran to her grandmother’s house. ‘My button, my wonderful button is lost!’ she cried. Her mother ran after her. ‘Sara, listen to me. The button is gone, finished, kaput. Even your grandmother cannot make something from nothing!’

Sara’s grandmother shook her head sadly. ‘I’m afraid that your mother is right,’ she said.

But the next day Sara went to school. ‘Hmm,’ she said as her pen went scritch scratch, scritch, scratch over the paper. There’s just enough material here to make a wonderful story.’

Colin Gibson reminds us that this is folktale which has inscribed on it the experience of a whole people, which acknowledges some of the difficulties of existence, and comes up with a gesture of hope and belief in the future. In a special way it offers a transformation or rather a series of transformations; it also suggests that we may yet bring life out of death.

Gibson point out that the world in which Sara lives is one of desperate poverty, in which any material goods must be made to last as long as possible. The world of Sara’s family overshadowed by two great evils all human beings experience in life: the inevitable losses brought about by the passage of time (coats are worn out, ties are stained with soup) and unfortunate accident (buttons are lost). They are evils most of us know from personal experience. The voice of Sara’s mother steadily acknowledges these sad truths: ‘it is time to throw it out, to throw it away. The button is gone, finished, kaput. Even your grandmother cannot make something from nothing!’ it is the voice of stoic realism. But the world of Sara is lightened by two great human values: the first is the power of loving social relationships (the girl’s love for and trust in her grandmother—’Grandma can fix it’— and the grandmother’s loving imagination, courage and creativity, forever winning something out of nothing. This is the voice of the tailor-grandmother, whose scissors went snip snap while her needle flew in and out. Through the imaginative experience of the story, there rings out the old human challenge to a hostile universe; the ancient Jewish belief in the race’s survival against all odds. The child has learned the wisdom of her grandmother; there is a trick left yet; the lost piece of cloth will be transformed in a story that goes on being sung to this day.

And I would ask you all to consider, where is social justice in this story? Where are human rights? Look between the lines my friends. They are woven in the fabric. They are the very something that we can all resuscitate, that we all must resuscitate, even from nothing with our own imagination, courage, creativity and persistence, forever claiming the precious dignity of each and every human being even from the seeming nothingness of unending daily degradations. We must each of us stand fast and be the tailors of each other’s respect and dignity.

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