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I love Dave Matthews who wrote these lyrics to his titular song, and, after visiting a friend with Alzheimer’s, who refuses to deal with it with self-possession, turning off NPR and the sad news about Gaza, Ukraine, children raped in the Sudan, Haiti’s chaos and the American elections, I put on Pandora, and this song summed up how I felt. It was not depression, but an emptiness that filled my soul.


When I got home, I wanted a giant glass of Chardonnay, which always feels like a giant hug from the most faithful lover, but I stopped drinking six months ago. Poor me. So, I ate some Hershey’s chocolate and went to bed. But I woke up the next morning contemplating on how I can continue to live in a world with so much pain and suffering, my own self included? The banality of gratitude journals was simply not cutting it. My simple acts of work with do-gooder volunteer organizations seemed pitiful.

Like many women, I am a fixer, which also seems to go hand in hand with being a (reformed) control freak. If I even think there will be a difficulty with something or someone, my brain immediately goes into high gear coming up with numerous tactical and strategic scenarios for helping, fixing, pounding at the problem until it is resolved.

My students are not getting a concept in class? Let me flip the classroom. A friend’s car has broken down? Let me lend them mine. I am struggling with learning a new idea or having difficulty mastering something? Let me pound at it for 24 hours/24 years/24 lifetimes until I get it right. Poor me.

ME ME ME and My Ego

What all of this is tied up in is ego and in thinking that I am important enough to fix or control anything. This realization that seemed to come through magically, with a strong cup of coffee, actually brought me some comfort and a giddy space of peace. I am powerless here, except to release. Is this what grace feels like? Am I experiencing it right now?

I actually googled divine grace. Finding a lot of scriptures that did not seem to get at what I was experiencing, I kept scrolling and contemplating. Then I ran across this:

“These situations require that I cast out into the deep — that in patience, and presence, and assistance, I go beyond where I wish to go, and beyond even where I can go, on my own… because here’s the thing: Out there in the deep, beyond my own self-giving, that’s where grace is. That’s where I’ve found something that seems like joy.”

The A-Ha Moment

WOW! Here I am bobbing along in the deep, far away from shore, and shore is where everything is clear as that shoreline, but I am bobbing along in a place that is absent of meaning. And this is absent of a heaven, or purgatory or hell, and it is definitely not God, seemingly so absent from all this human suffering. It is grace, to rise up without judgment, without pain but with presence and patience, which brings a complete peace with all that is. Grace is the continued participation in life despite it all.

My enlightened moments are fleeting, but I occasionally have them. When I am not so enlightened, I occasionally get road rage, which is about as far from grace as you can get; I know I am a cracked and chipped vessel, but I can still hold water and in a certain light the mosaics shimmer. Sometimes I have to sit in the woods, or bury my face in my horse’s neck, and occasionally I go to mass though I am a nonbeliever, but all those actions help me to remember not just an interconnectedness but spaciousness.

The first genuine smile I made after my boyfriend’s suicide was surreal but expansive. My heart finally cracking back open after bone crushing sadness felt like a lightening bolt of grace jumpstarting it like a defibrillator.

Because life can be such a shit show, that when I release myself from the suffering, judgment, or trying to make meaning of things, grace moves through me, and I am at part of the bigger uncontrollable divine dance, at least for the moment. I am at my divine destination (and I didn’t have to die to get there).

Advice from a Sage

Nadia Bolz-Weber, a very wise woman, had this to say:

“All I know for sure is that this world will break your heart. There’s enough sorrow to go around and for everyone to have seconds. But this world has a thousand forms of medicine too; I’ve yet to find healing in: Self-pity, Isolation, Pretending I am not hurting, Comparison; Hardening myself; Standing in judgement (although it sure feels good).

But I have found it in: Eye contact with another person who is in a tender place; The rare moments I stop filling in the blank about another person; Compassion toward myself and others; Remaining open hearted in moments I want to shut down; The times when I manage to not be so self-referential; Using my pain to see it in others rather than only in myself.”

So, for me grace is given a room with a view when I let it all be despite my discomfort and despite my own pain and most definitely when I have checked my ego at the door.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How do you deal with the pain and suffering of others? When do you try to fix and when do you decide to let it be? How do you reconcile your moments of grace with your moments of being human?

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