View from the Garret, Tuesday Feb. 19th
I used to think, when I was younger and had four small children and a (in my opinion) refractory husband, that my lesson for this lifetime was about Relinquishing Control! Just when I would think the situation was in hand, a shoe would drop. Every time it appeared as if things were on an even keel, and we had all gotten ourselves sorted out, the unexpected would rear up, often seemingly from nowhere. So when jumping to conclusions, as we are all wont to when desperately seeking an explanation, that was the obvious one. I simply needed to give up on the concept that I could "take care of things". I also thought, in flower child fashion, that Love Conquers All. If it didn't appear to, well, then it wasn't true enough, or even just, enough.
Lately, though circumstances aren't substantially different (I'm older and have four grown children and a (still often, in my opinion) refractory husband, and add to that grandchildren underfoot daily, book deadlines, art deadlines, and having somewhat less energy than I did in my 20's and 30's, and, just when I think the situation is in hand, a shoe drops. Every time it appears as if things are on an even keel, and we have all gotten ourselves sorted out, the unexpected still rears up, often seemingly from nowhere.) I look at those things differently.
I realize that control had to give way to courage - being brave in the face of the unexpected and the unknown. The world is a frightening and difficult place, at least as frequently as not; of course in some places, it's rotten all the time. Life is heartbreaking; there's no way around it. We are - or were - children who are hungry, kicked around, or maybe at best ignored, as frequently as we're cherished and protected. We idolize our parents even when they betray us. We fall in love with people who don't, can't or won't return our love. We see childhood hopes and dreams smashed, or simply left behind in a shoebox of treasures on a beam in a cellar thousands of miles and years away. And that's those of us who are lucky - those of us who don't live in devastated war torn communities, besieged, always hungry, and growing up with little hope things will be better for our own children, if we grow up at all. And that's why I look for courage in myself and those around me. The means to be brave in the face of the unexpected and the unknown, to show courage and carry on.
I no longer place much importance on an exalted love for everyone and everything. It isn't likely or even practical that each of us will be able to truly love everyone else. There are simply too many human failings of the heart to allow it. I do believe kindness and compassion are always possible, even when love isn't, and that they spring from courage and are not quite, though almost, the same thing. Kindness refers to the little things, small everyday gestures - being good, and a help to those near to us, in our varied circles, even extending that to those we may not know personally, but to whom we reach out when they need a hand to steady, or a word to comfort. Compassion is larger than kindness. One can be kind, lacking understanding. Compassion is a way of understanding, of putting oneself in the position of another, of walking the mile in their shoes. Compassion evokes generosity of spirit and encourages universality while recognizing individuality. It allows true forgiveness of terrible human failings and outrages that would seem unforgivable almost as easily as smaller transgressions of a moral code.
We are all born to have our hearts broken any way you look at it. Feeling myself blessed rather than harried, and always able to laugh at myself and my own small troubles, and make those around me laugh too, that's a great and good reward for trying to approach the world with courage, kindness, and compassion. And that's what I call grace.