awash in grace
on a cold winter’s night, after a long day in the hollows and dim-lit caverns of a hospital, where the smells are of ether, and the blinking and beeping and red-letter alarms leave you jangled and cored. on a cold winter’s night when your breath freezes in clouds as it puffs from your mouth and your nose, on a night as inky black and icy as that, there is nothing quite so heavenly fine as flicking on the lights to your dark old house, your empty house, and just as you’re beginning to stir about the kitchen, eager to feed your hungry, tired, shoved-aside child, suddenly the doorbell rings.
and there, wearing potholders as mittens, is your rock-of-gibraltar across-the-street neighbor and most blessed friend, a woman who since the night you moved in nearly 11 years ago has defined the art of being there. she is bearing hot-from-the-oven from-scratch chicken pot pie, comfort food enshrined in pyrex, comfort food the way the gods must have first dreamed it.
she is there with hot feathery islands of biscuit, floating atop an ocean of white-meat chicken and succulent broth. she’s chopped carrots, tossed in handfuls of garden peas and knobby pearl onions. she’s laced it with herbs snipped from her winter garden. and, as she stands there, ferrying the feast from the arctic blast at the door to the kitchen counter that moments ago had looked so forlorn, so empty, so begging for food, you feel a healing ooze deep down inside, deep down to where you hadn’t even realized it had all been emptied out.
only, suddenly, with this rock-solid, infinitely un-wobbable woman standing there, you realize that for the very first time all day you are leaning on someone, literally sagging your whole weight against her. you are breathing, exhale and inhale. you’ve just let out all your cares and your worries, your deep-down, tucked-away fear from that one awful moment when the breathing machine let out its shrill alarm of a warning. you have let it — all of it — whoosh right out of you, and as you lean into her sturdy down-coated self, you realize you are utterly, deeply letting her keep you upright. and she is providing.
and that’s how it is in those rare moments of grace, when the angels among us reveal their holy selves. when we are fed. when we are soothed. when we are reminded we needn’t bear it all by our lonesome, whatever it is that needs bearing.
and there is something especially otherworldly about the communion that comes with feeding, being fed, putting fork to lips, tasting deliciousness, feeling that warm lump slide down to the depths of our belly. it is surely sacramental. i’m guessing it’s why manna fell from the heavens, and not washcloths or soles for desert-worn sandals.
there are scant few times in our lives when we are so deeply hollowed. when we’ve been holding our breath for hours and days. might as well have been months. and someone arrives bearing food — that sustenance that takes flight where words fall off the cliff.
i remember those meals, will forever remember those meals, meals that bring me to tears, so deep a place did each of them feed me: the salad brought to my hospital bedside, complete with china bowl, and silver fork and knife, after my belly had been sliced side to side, and i’d felt so emptied. the hot chicken pot pie ushered in with the arctic draft at my door the night before last.
these are the kindnesses, the graces, that serve as angel wings, that literally lift us and carry us. that prop up our wobbly selves before we fall splat on our faces.
this week has been a week of being awash in grace. every bend in a hospital hallway seemed to bring an unexpected, unscripted angel. the dear old man who ushered my brother and i from the waiting room to the tiny cubicle where my poor mama lay, caught in that netherworld of anesthesia and age. where she somehow mustered the presence of mind to lift her ring finger from amid all the tubes, and ask, scratchily, “can i have my rings back?” for they’d made her take off her wedding rings — hers and my papa’s — hers, for the first time since she’d slipped on that thick gold band back in october of 1954, nearly 60 years on her finger, that ring.
there was the kind-hearted friend who barely heard word of my mama’s surgery and wasted no time dropping off a plush polka-dot blanket, one lined in cardinal red. one that kept me wrapped while i waited, and now keeps my mama wrapped on the long hospital nights.
another cardinal-loving soulmate sent along a teapot painted with the scarlet-feathered breath-taker my mama taught me to love, the one i always think of as hope on a wing. in a gesture of kitchen sisterhood that melts me, two dear friends are huddling together at a cookstove tomorrow, and together whipping up a saturday night feast for me and the next brother who’s flying in to town.
the brother who drove five hours to be here. the one flying in now from faraway maine. the two even farther away who’ve been calling and texting as if we’re all on a string connected to juice cans.
weeks like this one remind you that deep down we don’t ever go it alone. angels huddle and plot out the game plan. whose kindness will come just when it’s needed. whose understanding — without words — will ease you over the hump.
the acts of compassion are infinite. their depth is immeasurable. they’re as essential as oxygen, as unexpected as lightning bolts in a winter’s storm. they keep us from withering. they take up the load that might otherwise grind us into swept-away piles of dust.
bless them, each and every one, through and through and forever.
dear chairs, i type through bleary braincells. and can barely wrap words around thoughts. i’m keeping one eye on the clock, on the arrival of u.s. airways flight 1991, carrying my beloved brother. the chair turned seven yesterday, 12.12. the chair seems to have grown into one of those gathering grounds for angels, who ALWAYS keep me propped upright. love to all. i’m off to the airport. xoxox
tell your favorite prop-me-up tales? what unexpected angels have landed on your doorstep? who’s graced you with kindness you would have dreamed of wishing for????
You have spent a lifetime taking care of others, filling needs that people often don’t even know they have. And here at the chair, you fill me with knowledge, love, and grace every time I stop by. I am thrilled to read that during these hard days, people have taken care of you in so many ways. Many, many blessings to you, your mom, your family. I hope she is well enough to leave the hospital very soon. XOXOXO to all of you.
What Jack said … I’m wordless … so very glad there are those who know you so well and know in their hearts what you need. Prayers and blessings and love to you, all of you …
Lots of those moments during my mom’s long treatment this summer and fall .. meals cooked and delivered, helping farmhands, etc. It’s every bit as astounding and beautiful as you’ve described here.
On a smaller but no less profound scale, I’ve been particularly grateful lately for all the awesome women in my life, especially some of my twentysomething girlfriends because we prop each other up and cheer each other on. It’s a miracle to have friends who just get you like that.
Sending well wishes and prayers your way during this time.
another beautiful blog. how is barbara sr doing today? xxoo
Actually, my story features you. The day after I had left my ex-husband and moved into my tiny new apartment to start a new life, you showed up at my door with a coffemaker. I must have told you earlier in the week that as we were dividing up our stuff, he demanded the coffee maker. You, knowing how much I love my morning brew, came by early that Monday morning unannounced with new appliance in tow. That was almost 25 years ago. I still have that heartfelt gift. It is scaly and decrepit and hopelessly behind on technology but it always reminds me how you opened your heart and brought me exactly what I needed in one of my worst moments. Every cup brewed is a toast to the wonders of friendship and a reminder that friends bring light into the darkest hours.
i am crying because i don’t even remember it. i remember coming to your door. for one or another of the various reasons. oh gosh, this feels like peeking into a chest in the attic i forgot was there. especially this morning when i am aching to go rescue my mama from what ails her, this is a tender moment of grace. thank you. crying my way to the snow shovel. xoxoxo
I like it even better that you don’t remember. That it was something that you just instinctively did. No grandstanding. No glory. Just doing what friends do. Xoxo