a thing on which someone or something depends
or which provides a means of escape from a difficult situation
Dropped a stitch or several while knitting? Tried to fix a mistake and made a worse mess of it? Just got hopelessly lost and need to start a section again?
Enter the lifeline: a piece of extra yarn threaded through the stitches on the needle to protect the knitting below/before that point. Lifelines allow you to pull out a section of problematic knitting, stopping safely at a known good row.
In difficult or long patterns, a lifeline can be used at the end of a successfully completed section to lock it in (Whew!) or just before starting a tricky section (Uh, oh! Here comes trouble!). Then if/when you make a mess of things, you just rip out the knitting to that point, put the stitches back on the needles, and start again (Callooh! Callay!).
Knitting has given me a whole new appreciation for lifelines. Not that I’ve ever dropped a stitch, made a worse mess while trying to fix a mistake, or got so lost that the only thing for it was to start over — I mean, you know, in theory.
the golfer with the lowest score who has already completed regulation play
Although there may not be many parallels between knitting and golfing, being the clubhouse leader is a bit like having a knitting lifeline: all your golfing before that point is protected. Your score is locked in: It can’t go up, of course, but neither can it go down, at least not until/unless play resumes the next day. But a golfer still on the course can’t be sure of maintaining their current score. They could improve it by shooting under par, of course; equally, they could worsen it by shooting over.
The tournaments held every week also incorporate an implicit lifeline. Rather than playing for the whole season and adding up their scores at the end, golfers have agreed to lock-in the results of their play after every four games. You can’t lose the tournament that you won last week, even if you miss the cut this week. Just as well.
Similarly, when I worked on proposals before the days of automatic online backups, we printed every section at the end of every day. That way, if a computer file went south on us through technical glitch or user error, we could recover the work done to date, losing (at most) one day of work rather than maybe weeks of the horrid stuff. We didn’t call it a lifeline, but that’s what it was.
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done.
– The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
When I think of the things I might like to lock in at a given level of achievement but can’t — weight, fitness levels, investment value, bathroom cleanliness, garden weed-free-ness, relationship health — I realize how rare lifelines really are, in any aspect of life. All the more reason, then, to look for, use, and appreciate the few that allow me to protect what I have already accomplished: to count my money, as it were, while I’m still sittin’ at the table.