I continue to share some of the lessons I have learned from my mother, who died on July 15th. This lesson is about grace.
My mother was a very graceful woman. That quality included her ability as a dancer when she was a girl and young woman. We have photos of her dressed in her tap-dancing outfits, and many of her friends (and of course my Dad) have told us what a skilled dancer she was. Some have even suggested that Mother might have become a professional dancer, if not for having her life interrupted by World War II and by Dad who “swept her off her feet.” Once Dad turned 18 he was drafted into World War II, and when he got a chance to leave basic training in Maryland he traveled by train to Mitchell, South Dakota, where he found Mother (her father worked with a traveling harvesting crew during those hot summers on the plains, and his family traveled with him – including two summers in South Dakota). Dad proposed to her at the Corn Palace with a diamond ring he purchased in Mitchell. He told me that “diamond” later turned dark because it was a fraud sold to a gullible young serviceman. He replaced it with a better diamond ring, and over the years Dad gave Mother many lovely pieces of jewelry.
Anyway, Mother’s possible life as a dancer was not meant to be, instead she and Dad married in 1944 and enjoyed 66 years together. But Mother continued to be a “graceful” woman in many different ways. She always had an amazing amount of energy, and she always seemed to glide around the kitchen, the dining room table, and wherever she went. And Mother was a walker all of her life – she loved walking the beach on vacation, walking the neighborhood in the evenings, or walking through stores to “shop” or to “just look.” Only in her later years when she was slowed by a bad knee and later by a heart attack, did she slow down enough to need a cane and to walk slowly, and then finally not much walking at all.
She was a graceful walker, and she also lived a grace-filled life which was marked by her willingness to accept others and to give them the benefit of the doubt. I can remember many times when we would talk about some person who yelled, or was unfriendly, or did not treat someone well. Mother’s response was always something like, “Maybe they were having a bad day” or “You never know what problems they might be dealing with” or “Until you walk a mile in their shoes, you can’t judge them.” Always, it seemed, her response to others was to offer them a grace which they did not have to earn or deserve.
One particular occasion stands out in my memory. One of Mother’s friends was upset because her son was dating and engaged to marry an Asian girl. That friend just could not accept her son dating someone so different. My Mother, who was always fairly direct in her approach, picked up her friend and drove her to the college campus where her son was student – all the way saying to her, “You have to accept this girl, or you will lose your son, too.” Her friend went along (what choice did she have?) and reconciled with her son and accepted her soon-to-be daughter-in-law. She always thanked Mother for helping her to offer grace in a difficult situation.
“Grace” literally means “gift” and it is all about the unmerited, underserved love that we receive from God and from special people in our lives. We religious people spend way too much time trying to earn God’s love, attempting to be respectable people, and even arguing about which people are accepted by God. Maybe we should follow the lead of my Mother and discover the dance of grace which allows us to glide through life unencumbered by such pretentious efforts to be good. Maybe it is enough to know that God’s love is a grace and a gift, and then to open our hearts to share that gift to others.
Maybe life is all about grace, the gift of a Mother’s love which has taught me so much about the gift of God’s love in my life, too. I am grateful for that lesson.