And in those wondrous moments we realize there's more to life than we can possibly imagine.
It is a whisper of feeling, almost intangible. Yet it is powerful. Suddenly you are in a different space. You feel almost weightless. The air is still, your breathing is slow, but what you are experiencing is clean and clear. You have been touched by a moment of pure grace
One recent summer evening I was eating dinner with my sisters and mother. Music was playing—the aria “Song to the Moon” from Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka. I suddenly became aware of the incredible sweetness of the singer’s voice. My sister, Annalisa, who trained in opera, told us the self-taught opera singer, Amira Willighagen, was just ten years old, yet she had a quality like the late Maria Callas. The girl’s rendition of the long, difficult piece was perfect—eerily so. What takes singers years to learn, this child had innately absorbed. And as we continued to listen, I began to cry, overwhelmed by the angelic beauty and delicacy of her soaring voice. I was so grateful to my sister and this young girl for that moment. Dinner ended on a sweeter note, and we cleaned the kitchen with a new lightness of heart.
My daughter is the mother of two young children. One night she called me after they were in bed. She was completely exhausted from trying so hard to “do it all” for her son and daughter: driving them to swimming lessons, supervising their play dates, endlessly reading to them, devising one art project after another. She told me her husband was working late for the third night in a row at his new job and the kids were wild. By the time she got them settled for dinner, she was on the verge of tears. They ate silently for a few minutes. My daughter held her breath, waiting for food to fly or the toddler to feed the dog her dinner. Then her son, age four, looked out the window and said, “This is nice, sitting here with you.” He was talking to his two-year-old sister, who smiled sweetly back at him. At that moment, their mother was transfixed. Everything she had done had yielded this one glorious moment between the children of her heart.
Unexpected grace, like a sudden miraculous ray of sun penetrating a dark rainstorm.
An insular young man I know and adore found grace by working selflessly as a volunteer. Tyler D. was the product of a nearly loveless home, but somehow he knew he wanted a close, loving relationship. It came out in snippets of conversation: “When I get married, I’m going to make sure I am there for my kids,” or “If I had such a nice girlfriend, I wouldn’t ignore her phone calls.”
Once, in response to hearing about a couple we both knew who had broken up, he commented that they were so lucky to have each other, couldn’t they just work it out? But Tyler didn’t know how to open up to a woman he was attracted to. He couldn’t reconcile the feeling that he was not worthy of being loved with the desire to be loved. So he remained stuck and lonely. His main outlet seemed to be his work as a volunteer at an animal shelter. He was gentle and caring, and the cats and dogs responded to him more than to anyone else at the shelter.
There was one dog who was frightened and had been abused. Tyler made Barney his special project, and spent more time with him than with the other shelter animals. Within two weeks, there was a noticeable change in Barney, who moped all day until Tyler showed up. The manager of the shelter suggested that Tyler think about adopting Barney. Tyler was surprised. He was used to giving without expecting anything in return. That he might be “allowed” to take Barney home was a foreign concept. Tyler found himself thinking about it more and more. Maybe he could bring Barney home once in a while? He had seen a dog park not too far from his apartment. His home was big enough and Barney could stay in the fenced-in, cozy backyard when Tyler was at work. He knew his landlady would allow him to install a doggie door; it was she who had suggested the shelter as an antidote to Tyler’s lonely evenings.
Tyler decided to take Barney home for a trial. When he approached Barney’s cage with a collar and leash, he was sweating and excited. It felt like an enormous privilege to have this new friend by his side. As he led Barney to his car, he experienced an enormous wave of emotion. Was this what love felt like? Barney jumped into the front seat and Tyler got into the driver’s side. Barney settled into the seat and made himself into a compact ball, head on paws, eyes on the young man. At that moment, Tyler realized that he had opened his heart to this creature and he was loved in return. He was completely still as he absorbed this truth. And he knew he had somehow broken through what he had secretly thought of as his “frozen heart.”
When Tyler related what he called “the Barney saga” to me, I could see in his face a confidence that had never been there. It wasn’t a giant change; it was more like a small secret that was glowing inside of him and would help propel him toward the life he wanted.
These moments of grace, of insight or utter beauty like a pure stream of light, teach us that there is always more to life than we can imagine—and they can occur if we are open to them.
How do we become open to them?
We slow down. We allow ourselves to feel. We let that magnificent creation—our heart/mind—do the heavy lifting. Our senses—all of them—are operating whether or not we are conscious of them. Don’t ignore them! When we practice being deliberate in our movements and thinking, we will see a shift: chores will be less onerous; that which is pleasurable, like sex or good food or warm interactions with people we care about, will be enhanced; our psyche and emotions will be less reactive and cluttered. Opening to grace changes the texture and depth of our consciousness, warms our hearts, and enriches our lives.