Anyone who has spent the night anxiously looking after a sick child or pet can relate to that ‘Please, God, I’ll do anything if You’ll let him/her get through this!’ mantra we mutter mindlessly as we sweat it out with the child or pet. We think of all the love and joy and happiness that child or pet brings to us and reminds us of how fragile we all are. We feel keenly how much they mean to us and how their loss would diminish us. We look around at our house and our possessions and realize that our greatest treasures are the sweet lives around us.
The Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I used to live in an apartment complex before we were lucky enough to move into our present home. One day there was a fire alarm and the doors in every corridor automatically shut; that alone is panic-making. The Crankee Yankee, who had been outside, ran in and told me to put the cat (at that time, we only had one) into her carrier and to get out NOW. As I bundled my now-cranky cat into the carrier with her favorite toy, I thought briefly of our important papers, my jewelry and clothing, the few antiques I had from my grandparents, etc.–and realized that nothing was as precious as our lives.
All of us in the building; parents, kids and animals, stood in the parking lot, watching the firemen search every floor. Finally we got the all-clear; no fire, no danger. At that moment, all of us stood together in sheer gratitude.
One of my ‘dear ones’ was recently in a dangerous area of the Middle East, and I worried about him constantly. Each day I prayed for his safety, sent him long-distance Reiki, and asked the angels to watch over him. In short, I did everything that was in my tiny sphere of influence to keep him safe. It was hard to stay hopeful and harder still to stop worrying. Agonizing months later, we got word he was finally flying home. In my mind’s eye I saw a battalion of muscular angels guiding the plane through the air. Hope had become reality.
When we were finally able to see and hug him, the Crankee Yankee and I threw him a BBQ of Biblical proportions–we slung the old fatted calf right on the grill for him. While we sat enjoying each others company, I thought of Emily Dickinson’s immortal poem, “Hope is the Thing With Feathers:”
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.”
Now grace is that indefinable something that allows us to be forgiven, lifted up and filled to capacity with love and joy. All of us have experienced it at one time or other in our lives; times when we have been given to without first giving. It’s like being pulled out of a crowd of thousands and given a bag of gold, or being honored publicly for walking an old lady across the street. It is an unearned gift; nothing we can foresee.
Grace can confuse you, too–it comes in many guises. My biggest moment of grace came directly from my parents. Mom and Dad were adamant about my going to college right out of high school. Like many other lazy teens, I really wanted to stay home and hang out and just enjoy not having to go to school. Wisely, my parents disabused me of that idea. They had been firm about me saving my waitressing money each summer for college, and had me apply for a town scholarship. That scholarship was easily enough to pay for each semester’s books. Still, my parents sacrificed a lot to send me to college, and adjured me to make the most of the experience.
Well, I certainly did. Living on my own with my own room and dorm mate was a huge and heady step toward personal freedom. I went to classes and dutifully took notes. I majored in English education, figuring that since I loved to read and write, why not teach others to do the same? But after class I partied as I had never done before. Let’s just say I went a little off the rails. I fell hopelessly in love with a music major a few years older than me, and I spent as much time with him as I could. It became easier for me to skip classes, spend money and party. My idea of presenting my parents with my college degree was beginning to fade.
Long and predictable story short, I was summoned home. I sat with my two unsmiling parents and was read the riot act. If I was going to skip classes, fool around and generally waste the sacrifice my parents had made for me, than I could jolly well pay for my remaining colleges years myself. What could I say? They were absolutely right; I had been self-indulgent, lazy and had not appreciated all I had been given.
So stunned and shaken, I drove back to college. I went right to the local eatery and asked for a waitressing job. I started work right away and worked out a schedule that fit with my classes and homework. I became very familiar with all-nighters and renewed my friendship with my portable typewriter. (Mind you, this was well before computers and the Internet, so research papers really meant serious research.) I saved every cent, and I got my summertime waitressing job back. I still had my books scholarship, and I scraped by.
Finally, graduation day came, and my parents and my grandparents watched me receive my college diploma. I felt a mixture of exhaustion, exultation and the lingering ghost of the previous night’s hangover–but I had DONE it. I had stepped up to the plate and had done what I needed to do and was able to show my parents what I was made of.
It took me years to truly appreciate that particular grace in my life–I know now how hard it was for my parents to stand strong and not give in and help me out. I later found out that, when Mom or Dad would break down and want to help me, they would gently remind each other why they were doing this. They had to let me sink or swim on my own. This was a gift of sublime grace that has literally made me the person I am today, so many years later.
It reminds me of the old song, “Amazing Grace,” that declares in one verse that “I was blind/But now I see.” I hope we can all see clearly everything we have been given for which to be grateful and hopeful, and recognize the grace in our lives.