Every once in awhile, I am reminded to be grateful. In the midst of devastating earthquakes, the loss of children, the despair of loved ones, and the slow slipping away of life and vitality that waits for all of us, there is still so much of life. It is all grace to begin with, from our unexpected and unasked-for birth, through our blink-of-an-eye youth and the long middle years of responsibility, all the way to the last slow walk to the deathbed. Perhaps it’s a good idea to let a bit of our lives “flash before our eyes” before we face a moment of impending death.
For the early life, being born into a family that believed in God and the story of the Christ so hidden for all those centuries. For the strands of history held up by small moments lived out by faithful and pressured members of generations past, each of them not realizing how the simple choice here and there would change everything for me and my children. For the few days of tennis with my Dad, which I recalled in Leaving Ruin, days when he ran around the court in work clothes and heavy black shoes. For his study of the Bible, and his devotion to servanthood, broken as he was. For the hard work of my mother, and her ongoing willingness to push against some of the harder things of her own life, struggling to do the best she knew how for her children, though the results were far from perfect. For the church in which I grew up, all the friends I looked so forward to seeing each Sunday and Wednesday. Too many of them gone now, the threads they wove in me remain strong, stronger than I would have thought. For the years of schooling, and the adventures of football and track, cars and dating, mistakes and glories, all of it working on me, God working on me, building and breaking as I needed. I should write a book about those days, but it would frighten me, so many memories tinged with my own stupidity and pride. And for music, performance, and the moments wherein I woke up to the presence of art, theatre, and beauty. God did not have to wake me. In fact, everything I’ve been given need not have been given at all. There were no guarantees when I started this race, and there are none now.
Grace. All grace.
For the day I first saw my sweet wife, though I don’t remember it with any exactitude. For her smile, her gracious turn of smile, her unwillingness to put up with that side of me best labeled “jerk”, and for her stunning beauty as she turned up the aisle on our wedding day. For the 25 years that passed until she tried on that wedding dress again, and looked much like she did all those years before. For the delighted smiles of her children as they saw her in that wedding dress, and for the joy that memory brings me. For the hard years of beginning adulthood, learning what it meant to grow up, to be a man and a couple and a worker. God taught me depression, and how to get through it, and I’m thankful that it doesn’t derail me anymore, that it’s a lighter set of clothes than it used to be. Back to those children: no words, no words for what they are in the world. All children change everything for the mother and father, and my heart could not be more full. I won’t wax on, but God knows I cherish every moment of those little faces that live on my refrigerator, faces long transformed into older versions of themselves. But those little faces and bodies live on, they are not gone, but perhaps only hiding. They come out and play whenever I ask them to, and what’s best is that the larger versions are just as fine. Claim I any credit? None.
Grace. All grace.
For the work of my life. There’s no fame it, no riches, just the day to day figuring out what’s next. But goodness, what things I get to see on the way. Churches around the country and the world, people with shining eyes everywhere, letting their pain and joy bleed all over the people around them, and all of us the better for it. The theatres, the movie houses, the concert halls, the gilded chamber in Austria (why can’t I remember the name of this famous town? Will I ever be thankful for loss of memory?)…all filled with moments of human presence and works of revelation, the call of God sweeping into all these gatherings on the backs of moments of confrontation between actor and audience, violinist and bow, director and film. Make a list of your favorite moments in film, theatre, TV, music, ballet… And then, thank God you saw them. You didn’t have to. Most people never will. Oh yes, for all the actors I’ve been allowed to teach through the years. I have seen many academy award winning moments, and they break my heart every time. For that, too, I am thankful.
Time’s up, and I should be doing all this secretly (according to yesterday). Okay, so I’m chastising myself. But by analogy, who knows, maybe you’ll stop for a second and take an inventory, and just say thank you. If you can get through your own list and memory without getting a bit misty and thick of chest with all that air and life rushing through, then you’re tougher than me.
On to more of this adventure. Let today be a day I remember in ten years, found again in a list begetting gratitude.
“Merci”…sounds like grace…