Without. The word can mire you in a quicksand of sorrow. Or it can inspire you to obtain success. Canadian Jennifer Marquis chose the latter. She has lived and thrived without fingers her entire life. And she knits.
“I have what is called a bi-lateral congenital hand defect, which in layman’s terms basically means: No fingers on either hand, born this way, not genetic,” explains Marquis. “The most common school of thought as to why I was born this way, was that my hands were embedded in my mothers uterus during a developmental stage, causing my defect.”
Knit one, girl two.
We spoke to Marquis after hearing of her video interview with Business Insider.com, where she describes learning how to knit despite being without fingers.
TTU: What has been your biggest challenge over the years?
Marquis: It’s hard to say what my biggest challenge would be, as my “biggest challenge” changes constantly. When I was small, my greatest challenge was shoelaces, (which I figured out eventually), in my teens, it was learning how to do my own make-up and hair, when I became a mother is was figuring out how to get a squirmy baby into a sleeper and how to quickly change a diaper. All of these were the greatest challenge at the time, but I have been able to overcome them, through what I assume is sheer stubbornness.
My ongoing greatest challenge actually has very little to do with handicap. It’s patience.
Patience to know that doing tasks WILL and DO take me longer than most people. My struggle is to be patient with myself, to not get frustrated or defeated, to make myself calm and simply try again.
TTU: Have you always had an optimistic view of your particular challenge? Did your parents or siblings support you?
Marquis: If I’m to be honest, my optimism came later. When you’re growing up with a handicap, especially not a common one, very little has been “figured out” for you. There were no classes or videos on how to dress myself, or instruction manuals about how to work in a kitchen without fingers. It was very easy to feel overwhelmed knowing that I had to figure it out all by myself.
I absolutely allowed myself a pity-party once in a while, where I let myself cry over the injustice and feel sorry for myself. That being said, I had a wonderfully supportive family. Supportive in the way that they never expected my handicap to slow me down or be used as an excuse. I was expected just like any other child to dress myself, I was expected that I would learn to ride a bike, and later, drive. My parents were always on the lookout for things that could help make my life easier, eg. owning an electric can opener instead of a manual one, but I was never allowed to use my handicap as a crutch.
The excuse “I can’t do it, I’m handicapped.” never flew in my house. I had to try. If I was honestly unable to do something, then I was always offered tons of help, but I was expected to try. I was raised as if I had no handicap, and in that way, I am extremely lucky and feel it made me the self-sufficient person I am today.
Needles and Pain
TTU: Is there a particular incident you can share?
Marquis: Oh goodness, I have tons. But this story is my absolute favourite and it only happened a few years ago. I was taking my one year old for a walk in her stroller and we decided to go to the local bookstore to browse and buy a coffee. I’m standing in line to pay, (the store was quite busy) minding my own business when this tiny old biddy comes up to me, coos over my beautiful child and loudly states: “I’m just SO impressed with you people!”
Almost immediately a hush fell over the store.
I stared blankly at this old woman who was smiling to beat the band, and thought: “…have I just been “you people’d”? How do I respond to this?” I could feel my mouth twitching; I bit my cheek to keep from bursting into a laugh in this woman’s face. A small, but very STRONG part of me wanted to put on my sassiest voice and state: “Whaddya mean “YOU people?” However I pushed the desire aside and muttered a small “Thank you.”
“I just don’t know how to do it all! Being born like that! ..Do you know Stuart from (next town over)? He’s one of you people too! Missing a leg, the poor dear,” she announced.
Tears. They were starting to gather in my eyes, I didn’t know how long I’d be able to keep a straight face for, she ‘you people’d’ me again! I was dying!
“No I don’t know him, sorry,” I said very tightly, no longer being able to cover the huge grin that was taking over my own face.
“Oh that’s okay! I’m sure you’d notice him if you met him. Well have a nice day dear!” She waved as she slowly shuffled out of the store. I was barely able to make it to when she was safely outside before laughing until my ribs hurt, and I’m pretty sure I heard a few relieved sighs from other customers. How could I be offended at that? She was clearly trying to be nice, even if it was in the most awful way possible!
TTU: I love the way you challenged yourself to knit and overcame the issues involved. Has this helped you in your other goals?
Marquis: I would say that it was overcoming my other issues that encouraged me enough to keep working at knitting, rather than the other way around. I had grown up watching my mother knit, and wanting to do the same would try and fail, time and time again. My mother would patiently show me how to knit when I felt like I could try again, then encourage me when it didn’t work..again.
I think my refusal to give up stemmed from having had other issues and overcoming them successfully. I always have this little voice in the back of my head telling me to keep trying, because I’ve tried, failed, then overcame eventually. It all comes back to that patience with myself. I didn’t know I’d be able to knit, in fact I very much doubted it. But I also doubted I’d be able to tie my daughters hair into a ponytail, or be able to chop vegetables quickly and efficiently, and yet I overcame them both, eventually. My life is a series of attempts and failures, only to pick myself back up and keep trying until I succeed.
TTU: An innocent post on Imgur turned into a video, and it has been an inspiration to many! But you didn’t stop there – you saw yet another opportunity!
Marquis: I was very surprised when my little post on Imgur about my knitting turned into an opportunity to be interviewed by Business Insider, which then in turn went viral and was being shared all over Facebook. Almost every knitting page, and yarn company had posted my little 3 minute clip on their page.
Reading all the encouragement and people opening up about their own disabilities and overcoming their own issues was such a blessing to me, it helped me realize that while I have spoken VERY rarely about my handicap, out of fear that it would look like it defined me, it was instead being used to help and inspire others.
I decided to get in contact with some of the major yarn companies and basically wrote thanking them for sharing my story with their followers, and that I loved their product (which I do, I’m a huge fan of a lot of their yarn), and could I act as promoter, and use their product for my upcoming projects then post about it on my social media outlets?
After some back and forth I was able to get backing from Red Heart Yarn and Cascade Yarn, they were both willing to send me “yarn support” and basically ship me a box of their yarn to work with. I was thrilled!
TTU: Trust the Universe believes that with every challenge there is a benefit. What do you see as a benefit?
Marquis: I suppose having a handicap can bring unexpected people into your life. It makes strangers introduce themselves, allows me to crouch down and talk to curious children, and even now, doing this interview is a benefit of my handicap. If I can encourage just ONE person to keep trying, to push their own boundaries and help them find a reason to keep going, then that is easily the largest benefit.
Humour and patience take you a long way. People will be ignorant and say stupid things, children will act frightened, and assumptions about your capabilities will be made. Thankfully in all my years of having random people come up to me to ask me about my handicap, a fraction are rude.
Most are curious, understanding, encouraged or inspired. The best thing a person with a handicap can do is smile, be kind, be respectful, help them to help understand you. Then when its all said and done, laugh your ass off about it later.
TTU: Thank you, Jennifer Marquis!
The first definition of without in Dictionary.com is this:
with the absence, omission, or avoidance of; not with; with no or none of; lacking: without help; without shoes; without her helping me; without him to help.
Jennifer Marquis is without fingers, but not without heart and spirit. She admits that sometimes she feels sorry for herself. She moves quickly through those times by using positive thought . She has faced her most difficult challenge of patience by experiencing things that need exactly that – knitting, social interaction, and motherhood for a start. She lacks nothing, and considers her life full of meaning and clarity. She reminds us all that by focusing on without, we are asking the Universe to bring us to that place and feeling of lack. The key is to allow the emotion of joy, and intend a life of abundance and success.
Contact Jennifer Marquis through her Facebook page or on her Instagram site, @pocketfull_ofposies.