“I do not understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott
Until I’d read Andre Dubus' Meditations from a Movable Chair and Broken Vessels, I’d never contemplated grace. Because in l999 I'd chosen Dubus as the subject for the lecture required for my M.F.A. at Bennington; because he wrote about the dailiness of grace and gratitude, writing somewhere in his memoir about bringing grace to shopping for groceries, preparing dinner; because I'd hoped to meet him in Boston before I delivered my lecture; because I'd read all of his books, read interviews he'd given, read transcripts of interviews; because my friends said I would love him; because I loved his words; because he died a month before I was to give the lecture; I began to think about grace, about achieving grace. To this day I spend minutes of my day trying, sometimes trying hard, to bring grace into whatever I do—even the most mundane, particularly the most mundane, task. I slow down to make a prayer of washing this dish, the one my old cat likes the best. And this one, the cup Frank gave me for Christmas from his own cupboard because one day he made me coffee, and poured it in a blue and white china cup that I declared to be just the perfect most beautiful cup.
I wash another—the one I bought when Robert Scott Williams was coming to visit, my old friend who lives in Cairo. I wash with care that cream mug with thin red lines, thinking of Robert Scott, the music he makes, remembering when he played his guitar and sang on the screen porch, my new friends gathering around, seeming somewhat surprised. I've thought it must have surprised them, the easy openness, a surprise that this man would simply make music right there, not to call attention to himself but to make music. I wash the mug the way he made music, my mind focussed--with tenderness I wash the mug and like Aladdin’s lamp the memory blooms like a genie, the magic night appears, then disappears, and I begin to wash the green glass plate, the one that reminds me of the sea glass I love, the worn green glass that reminds me of all my oceans, my pilgrimages to water. The seashore, I begged of my parents as early as four years old. Take me to the seashore!
This morning I begin the measured routine I have for feeding the birds—the blue scoop into the child’s pink plastic pail, the wooden African bowl filled with suet--with a renewed decision to be deliberate with anything with everything I do during the day. I've just begun to write again. I want to learn to read the world again, read carefully, to be grateful for what I can do, for how I can think, for how I can attend to what I have.
I crumble the sticky suet and fill a small blue glass bowl. This morning I think of where each of the containers came from: the blue scoop from Aubuchon’s, the hardware store where after seven years after almost daily purchases the clerks finally greet me by name.
Finally, I always think, finally.
I come from the South where clerks in check-out lines tell you about their cats, their love-lives, their English profs at community college.
I can recall the moments when I became visible, when I was SEEN in this small town in the Berkshires I now call home.
I spend large expanses of time alone.
This is by choice. I have to remind myself often that This Is By Choice.
For twenty-five years I psyched myself up almost daily to walk into a classroom and give that roomful of students all I had. All of me. All I had.
I’d stride across campus on the way to class and say to myself—All that matters in the world is this hour.
I would say to myself: Change them. Say something. Think something. Make one thing happen. Insight. Change. Bring it. Bring it. Bring it.
I’d think—almost every day that I walked that walk—about the famous actress I saw interviewed on a talk show. She was asked if she still got stage fright. She said yes and the interviewer was surprised. She said that the minute you don’t have the panic, the heart racing breathlessness, the surge of adrenalin that you’ve lost it. The performance will be lame, limp, phoned in.
After some years of teaching, I lost my vanity. Of course, I always wore my teaching costume—I dressed for them, out of respect, out of the feeling that everything in the room should be jazzy, thought-out, high-pitched, energized. But often I forgot to look in the mirror. And if I did it was to say—OK here you go. Here WE go.
It was a performance. That sounds egocentric. As if it was all about me. What I want to say is that over time it became all about us, the room the creation we had made together, became together.
Every semester I fell in love. I loved them. I’m almost certain I can say they loved me. It was shared experience. It was theater of the mind. I was never smarter. My mind was never faster, making connections, pulling all I knew to give to them to help them learn to think so they could have the rush of thinking thinking hard being useful being good being full of grace looking at the world seeing the world seeing through it and into it and being in it.
I loved them. I miss them. I miss them. Every day I feed the birds I wash the dishes and I miss them.