The Hope Tree – 2014

UPDATE 03/22/14: The Swellesley Report and Boston.com have run an article on the 2014 Hope Tree. Click here to read.

The Hope Tree is a way of sharing with friends and neighbors our Hope that one day we will understand mental illness and how the brain functions--so that diagnosis will be a science rather than an art, and more effective treatments will improve the lives of those who are suffering. We dare HOPE for a cure!

This year’s tree is full of symbolism.

Life goes on… As sure as the sun rises and sets, day follows night and the cycle repeats itself. The pattern continues with the seasons – Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.

In Hope Tree 2014 each of the four seasons is represented with a chain of five balls. The colors of each chain are consistent with the colors of the season. The winter colors are royal, but dark; colors turn brighter in the spring, but of pastel shades; the blue of the sky and ocean, the bright yellow sun and the lush green of the land dominate the summer; and the magnificent reds and golds represent fall.

The design of each ball is original and unique, combining a desire to capture the nature of the season along with experimenting with size and shape -- round balls, ovals, triangular lines, as well as texture and knitting techniques. Having completed the winter chain, which was driven by shape, the following seasons’ balls incorporate interpretations of the nature around us. If you use your imagination you will see the first flower buds of spring, the forsythia, the iris and the peonies; the blue skies, the ocean blue, the bright yellow sun and the lush green of the land that dominate summer; and the burst of red and gold leaves in fall. Use your imagination and you will even find a chestnut.

If you look closely you will find a fifth chain. Four of the balls are predominantly white, one is gray. This is a reminder of what drives the work of the Tommy Fuss Team. 1 in every 5 children or adolescents will experience a mental health problem before the age of 21, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Raising awareness, removing the stigmas and encouraging individuals to seek help for themselves and those they love is a goal of the Tommy Fuss Team. Raising funds for the important research of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention is equally important.

Why stop at five chains and 25 balls? There’s the practical reason of only so much time. And there’s the symbolism. The installation goes up at the end of February coinciding with Tommy’s birthday. This year he would have been 25 years old.

Adorning the tree is also an interpretation of the human brain, a gray sphere recognizable by the bulges and grooves of the cerebral cortex. A chain several of the 100 billion neurons or brain nerve cells can be seen at the back of the tree. Imagine the cell body (the sphere), the axon (the long rope) and the dendrites (the shorter connecting ropes) in this oversimplified interpretation of these incredibly complex cells. How these cells transmit information and make the connections they do is also symbolic of the connections we make in life with one another. For many, including this “fiber artist”, connections with family, friends and even strangers have been a source of support and strength.

And the heart. It is there because along with hope, love keeps us going. And those whom we have lost never truly leave us. They live on in our hearts and in our minds.

Several “flowers” appear which are comprised of recycled knitting projects, which were abandoned for one reason or another, but have found new life in the Hope Tree.

While the Hope Tree is motivated by mental illness, of the message of Hope extends to finding improved treatments for all disease. The people I know who are fighting breast and other cancers, MS, and kidney and heart disease are an inspiration for me. The healing ribbons which appear on the tree trunk represent Hope for these cures, too.

Life is a journey

Knitting for me is a form of therapy, just like walking, swimming and quilting. It’s amazing what I have learned about myself and life with some yarn and my knitting needles. The repetitive motion of straight knitting and purling can be soothing and meditative. Knitting involves creativity and the process itself is a challenge. Sometimes the process is more important than the product. A project might be abandoned – I’ve learned what I wanted to learn from it, it’s not working for me, or it’s simply time to move on to something else.

Sometimes a project starts with a pattern or a plan but the plan is modified along the way. Sometimes changes result from mistakes (in the knitting and quilting world we refer to this as design opportunities), other times as a matter of preference. The end product may bear no resemblance to the original idea. And occasionally something you’ve created is perfect, perhaps even better than you could have imagined. At least for me, there are parallels between life and knitting.