The Books of Grace

At last, words are flowing again, and I have thought of a story I want to tell.

This is not that story.

In a day or two, I will tell it. I will write you a story about a cow and a cup of coffee and an important letter. But today, while that story was incubating, something else happened.

It was nothing dramatic; just some dawdling in the bookstore. But it was an experience of unexpected grace. Why? Because, after half an hour of wandering, I became aware that something was missing.

Somehow, I had neglected to bring my usual bookstore baggage through the doors with me. All of the things I wrote about in Bookstore Sans Filter: envy, insecurity, pessimism. Frustration at the plethora of condescending and contradictory advice in the nonfiction sections. Feelings of futility when looking at the shelves of books and thinking I have nothing to contribute. Defensiveness in response to the perceived barrage of things I should be cooking, causes I should be supporting, ways I should be parenting, et caetera ad nauseam.

It wasn’t there! I call it unlikely grace, because I did nothing to make it happen. I just noticed it, the way I might notice that I forgot my purse. Or the way I notice (if I’m paying attention to positives) that it’s a low pain level day.

It was the most enjoyable bookstore trip I’ve had for a long time. I browsed in the cooking section–a place I avoid like the plague–looking at cookbooks my daughter might like. I looked at books in the photography section, art, nature and even psychology without feeling the usual pressure. Perhaps it wasn’t completely gone, but it lay lightly upon me; a silk scarf in place of a heavy cloak.

Even when I made my traditional pilgrimage to the poetry section last, it felt like saying hello to my friends instead of being wistful and covetous. Wanting to own all of those books, or wanting to be up there with them, did not hurt.

Gratitude is vital to my sanity, yet I so often find myself trying to force it. When it’s not flowing freely, I get annoyed at the social media rhapsodies about how blessed people are feeling. I feel as if I’m failing if I’m not swimming in a sea of peace and bliss, or at least papering my misery with sayings about how my misery isn’t necessary.

What I felt today is gratitude, though. Or, at least, it’s something without which gratitude is impossible. I felt awareness of a gift; this gift of temporary freedom from my own chains.

Alice Walker said it well in The Color Purple: “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.” It says we are meant to notice, but it says nothing about what we are to do with that awareness. It says nothing about making lists of blessings and putting purple on it. That’s great to do, if it helps us, but the first thing that helps is awareness.

What would I be like if my mental filter always let positive input through as smoothly as negative? If, along with real pain and dark emotions, there were a constant inflow of data about lightness and color and word–less pain, easier breath, moments of freedom, slants of light.

As I read this, I don’t think my words have truly captured what I felt among those books. That’s all right, though, because some things can’t be described in words. It’s like events in a dream, where you just know the turtle is actually your third-grade teacher but have no idea how you know this. The feeling of grace and freedom, like all of what keeps me here for one more day, is at its heart a mystery.

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