Tuesday, June 18, 2019

On / around Grace

On walks, I see the world framed through Lilith's tall ears. Today we walked through the oddly segregated cemetery: Chinese View hillside, Japanese section, patriotic section, Roman Catholic section that sweeps down a hill to a green island where a statue of Mary stands. Near the highway the names are Filipino and Samoan, but their section is not labeled. The pet cemetery is on the other side of a lava wall, near Kahekili. More words per one sentient being there than for human beings, but fewer bottles of beer.

A bow-legged driver gets out of a large black Cadillac hearse to get something out of his parked gray compact car. Two American flags flap at the front of the hearse; a U.S. Army sticker on the right door. Radhika wanted to know what a hearse was yesterday, when we saw two heading up the Likelike with police escort.

Hank sends me an essay on grace. Most persuasive is his idea (if not argument) that grace is communal, not individual. (Though he argues that moments of grace in writing come without concern for audience). The Jewish Buddhist prayed in the hospital with his Christian nurse; they did so in silence to avoid confusion. My father's arms outstretched on his last hospital bed, blessing the African male nurse who tended to him. Hallowed be his name; I think it was Abraham.

A young white man was heading up Hui Iwa as Lilith and I walked toward Kahekili. His hair was blonde and tightly cropped. He carried a backpack and a guitar. He did not look me in the eye, nor did he look at my dog. On the way back, we saw two young white men, about the same height as the first. They might have been twins: blonde hair (one wore a backwards cap, pony tail through the gap between cloth and strap), black tee-shirts, khaki pants; each walked a tan dog. Young man 1 and young man 2 crossed the road to avoid Lilith, each one's face directed at his phone. Chin down, leash out.

There is the ordinary grace of encounter even in its evasion. And there is the community of the poem, even if it's written without an audience in mind. The blog is more discipline than outreach; it sits me down to write. But the poem or meditation gathers in a crowd, places them on the same "page," locates community where it is most fragile. Americans belong to groups organized around death: mass shootings, suicides, car accidents, domestic abuse. The Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist sent child pornography to parents of the dead, but assures the court it was accidental. Or that is someone else's conspiracy against him. The President tweets his support.

Conspiracies are false grace; they make too much sense to abide because sense gets stuck. Lee Harvey Oswald stands in the door of the building from which JFK was shot, instead of on the 7th floor. There was no collusion, but if it were offered dirt, he'd do it. But grace notes are so-called for a reason; they don't last long. If you turn your head, you might miss the note as it skips by.

Death is mystery, pegged by headstones' names and dates. Mystery is grace, as it is pure offering. I read that plots are available, but they will cost you. I can't remember plots, so the stories promise me little. I could plot my walk on a graph or a map, but that would say nothing about Lilith's obstinence or my accommodation.

I posted a portrait of my dad to social media on Father's Day. I remember my astonishment that the eyes on the faces of portraits follow you across the room. I trudged back and forth at that historical site, eyes locked to those of some Founding Father or other.

One couple whose child was killed at Columbine travels the country in an RV. When they hear of a mass shooting, they turn toward it, joining the mourners at public services, befriending the bereaved. It's a career of sorts, this turning into death's door. These are crimes, not tragedies, but we mourn them as the latter. Find grace in our anguish. Spirit capital cannot be all bad, though there's very little pay-off in the end.

Or there is, but who knows its cost. When asked if the five years of being abused by a school psychiatrist drove him toward success, the old Rhodes Scholar said he had no way to begin to answer the question. The abuser abuses in perpetuity; he might see his abuser's crooked thumb in his own. And lose a day, a week, a life over it.

She used drugs only on the weekends until someone passed her something that promised more. She had no idea it was heroin, until her bank account had emptied. Meth was more cost-effective, and supplemented heroin when she couldn't afford it. Her date of sobriety is the day of her child's birth. "He could be spending money on worse things," she said to me. The only cure for repetition is repetition. I remembered the Lord's Prayer (which my father said each night with me) during heavy turbulence during a flight in China. I held hands with an old German woman who lived in Honolulu. I loved that my dad included "and ever" after "forever." Amen.

Hank writes that grace is an active experience, not a state, even one of being. I hear Obama singing in Charleston, his moment of communal grace so fragile in our memory of it. There was the catastrophe of the murders, and now our memory of grace seems shattered. This era spits grace up, like a cat his fur ball. We recover it only in small rooms, or in a prayer's brief erasure of noise.

Note: Hank Lazer's essay, "Grace, and the Spiritual Reach of Representation," is forthcoming in Religion & Literature, out of Notre Dame (University). He writes:

The issue of Religion & Literature (49.2 - oddly as Summer 2017, though the issue only recently came out) is available.  Most libraries should provide access to the article, but if anyone wishes to read the (long!) article, I'd gladly send along a pdf of it.  OK to give out my email - hlazer@bama.ua.edu

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