I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of “grace,” something I first heard about in Christian circles, when I traveled in them. The grace of God. Saying grace. Hail Mary, full of Grace. An ambiguous idea that, as a Catholic, I had trouble grasping. In my understanding, God loved us–as long as we were good. When we were bad, we had to beat our chests and kneel for hours and recite words without thinking.
As I’ve gotten older, though, the idea of grace has become more three dimensional. Tangible. Active. There are lexical references too; the “grace period,” a little space in which punishment is delayed if a deadline is past. Grace notes in music are little quick notes in a space that’s otherwise empty, delicate flourishes intended to color the silence.
In my work dealing with the public, mostly strangers whose day-to-day troubles are a mystery to me, I’ve come to understand grace as a cushion softening our interactions. I’m in a stable position in my life; emotionally and financially balanced, in a healthy marriage to a wonderful guy, with work that I enjoy that puts good food on the table. It feels like I have extra good stuff to share, to reach out in warmth and welcome to people who might be having a hard time. This feels like grace, to me.
There’s a bigger grace I think we’re all discovering now, as a society. I think that the last 18 months or so has shown us how tattered and neglected that cushion between us all had become. There’s a lot of bristly anger from white people who feel like they’re losing something. Particularly grating to many white people is the idea that they enjoy a privilege of any kind.
Seems to me that the key to understanding the idea of white privilege comes down to this; we white people can’t possibly understand what it’s like to live as a black person in this country, so we have a duty to make a little extra space for that experience to be different from ours. We need to give people the grace of believing that they have day-to-day troubles we don’t understand.
I don’t retain much from my days in Christianity; my belief system is wholly shifted away from any deity. But the idea that we should give each other a little leeway for being human, and being flawed, and for having troubles that we can’t possibly grasp, well, that makes sense. So when I’ve got a “square to spare,” in this period when I’ve got balance and a full life, I’m going to carve out a little grace for the other flawed and troubled humans I encounter.
There isn’t much I can give to the people around me to make their lives better, to ease the painful experience of being human, but I think I can do this.
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