As I headed down Broadway toward the gym, I passed a woman pushing a stroller. Its occupant, a boy of about two, was pitching a fit, crying, straining at the straps and attempting a jailbreak with all his might. His mother cooed at him, but he was not to be comforted. I smiled to myself; I’d been in her shoes. As the mother of two sons myself, I know that sometimes nothing can soothe a savage little beast in the midst of a howl fest.
But a block later, I spied the actual cause of the boy’s conniption. There, in the middle of the sidewalk, lay a small stuffed giraffe. I scooped him up and turned to call after the mother, but she was gone. I trotted back to the corner and looked around. No sign of them. But something pointed me eastward, and I jogged across Broadway and up 93rd Street. There! A block ahead, I spied them. My jog became a sprint as I took off, my big gym bag bouncing against my back.
I’m no runner, but that morning I flew across Amsterdam Avenue, my feet barely touching the pavement. In a minute I caught up, panting as I planted myself in front of the stroller and thrust the giraffe toward his still sniffling owner. “Oh!” said the mother. “That’s why he was crying. I couldn’t figure it out. Thank you so much!” I knelt down, but the boy, too shy to accept the toy from me, hid his face in his shoulder. “I’ll just give this to your mom,” I said, and that was that.
For me, grace is that inexplicable sense of something extraordinary happening, something fundamentally important that reaches me at my core.
The whole incident lasted less than five minutes, but the feeling of lightness that descended upon me as I walked back to the gym lasted for days. It felt great to reunite the boy with his furry pal, but there was something beyond performing a good deed at work here and I struggled to capture and define it. I pondered why I was at the right spot at the right time to rescue a beloved toy. What propelled me to turn east as I searched for the stroller, and what turned this water buffalo into a cheetah as I chased it down?
I believe the answer is grace.
I’m not religious or even particularly spiritual, but the notion of grace resonates with me. I view it as a mysterious energy that lies beneath my conscious mind, a mystical rather than mental concept. It’s that inexplicable sense of something extraordinary happening, something fundamentally important that reaches me at my core. I felt that sensation the first time I held my newborn sons. I’ve felt it watching wild horses run at a full gallop across a plain and a great blue heron landing silently on my pond. Recently, I felt it as I watched footage of a group of Greek villagers greet a raft full of shivering Syrian refugees with blankets and warm embraces.
For me, living with grace isn’t about avoiding sin or getting into heaven. It’s about reaching outside myself and grasping something bigger, something that connects me to the rest of the world. We can’t understand grace by reading about it in a book or listening to a sermon. We’ve got to actually experience grace in order to recognize it and invite more of it into our lives.
By itself, my giraffe story seems random and relatively meaningless. But a million giraffe stories happen every day, and together they translate into countless moments of grace. No matter how small, each moment is important: Sometimes just a smile can change another person’s day.
With the goal of making these moments less random, I’d like to think it’s possible to purposefully invite grace in, to mindfully tune into opportunities to offer or receive kindness. My hope is we can condition our minds to appreciate the power of nature and naturally drift toward tranquility and gratitude, rather than gravitating toward guilt, anxiety and judgment.
I’m going to start by being less critical of myself and others: those feelings clog up the works, blocking the way for grace. I’m also going to try to expand my vision of what’s possible — for me and for the world — and be more open to good surprises. Believing that something wonderful can happen might just up the chances that it will.
The truth is that grace silently maneuvers its way through our lives. We don’t know when it will appear, which is, of course, part of the magic. But perhaps by being more positive and present, I can encourage grace to be more present, too.
(Photo credit: Adrianna Dufay/TueNight)