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Where do you start when you make a patchwork quilt? How do you try to patch up a failing heart? And why should you want to do either?

We’re not talking about buying lots of expensive fabric in wonderful colours to make an art quilt, though there is nothing wrong with doing that. We’re talking about a traditional quilt, collecting old clothes and rags, cutting up every piece you can lay your hands on, and piecing them together. Let’s call that a heart quilt.

You can add bits and pieces from friends and lovers, strangers and enemies, pieces found in a cupboard or in a gutter, fabrics kept greedily for years or blown in casually by the wind.

You will shake them out and turn them, lay them out and relay them, putting them just so!.. just there! Every scrap will have a history, signs of wear and tear, and each may be cherished and chosen for its memories or for its colour or even for some random, unfathomable reason. Then you will sew them all together. The secret of that kind of quilt is that it is made of whatever is available and the result is always beautiful.

Our own hearts are full of thrown together fabric; bits and pieces of ideas, thoughts, memories and dreams. Whenever life tears into your heart and opens it, you quickly patch it up again to prevent all those memories pushing their way through and blowing away.

Just occasionally in life, things happen that are so bad your heart feels as if it has been cut to pieces. All you can do then is try to patch it up with memories of kindness, of better times, of love – and that’s exactly how you make your patchwork quilt.

Why do we do this? Why do we make patchwork quilts? Why do we patch up the heart when we’ve been hurt? Because life is infinitely precious and we want to live.

Real living, being properly alive, is to be aware that we exist contained and containing love. Being alive is to be safely made up of memories just like a quilt – even, paradoxically, when memory has gone, temporarily or permanently.

I know this because in May 2009, my physical heart was found to be failing. I was admitted to hospital as an emergency. My chest was opened with the amazing skills of a whole team of people and my heart and aorta were patched up with a mixture of organic porcine tissue – pig to you and me – Teflon mesh, finest silk threads and catgut, plus several pints of blood, donated by unknown benefactors.

Everything was sewn up again and returned to me, in order that my life could continue for a while longer. All this having been freely given to me, thanks to the kindness of so many strangers who loved life too.