Sunday, May 12, 2013

In The Grip of Grace

I've always imagined grace as ephemeral, drifting light as a feather, settling peacefully on someone's shoulder. Or around him, unnoticed. Or seen, but not recognized. Maybe even shrugged off.

But I think "in the grip of grace" has a ring of truth to it. It's an assertion of existence, a shameless declaration of being. Because there is grace, wherever you look.

There is grace in loneliness. When you are with no one but your thoughts, in the silence you recognize your own voice and discover that being by yourself isn't so bad after all, and that you are not truly, not ever, alone.

There is grace in broken relationships. When you try and put a number on how much you've given of yourself, how many times you've cried in anger and frustration and hurt, you get to the point where you count how many times you've almost given up but didn't and you realize how strong you really are.

There is grace in unfulfilled dreams. When you grieve over those wasted years that you feel amounted to nothing and you call to mind the faces of the people you love whom you've disappointed, you realize that they believe in you because they see something there, and they love you anyway even if there wasn't.

There is grace in pain. When you feel that nothing, nothing, nothing could feel worse, you wonder how you could possibly still be alive, why you can still stand up and, despite not knowing where to go from where you fell, you find that you can still walk on, move forward, if you just put one foot in front of the other.

She stands in your path and looks you square in the eye. She grabs you by the shoulders and whispers, Here I am. Look at me. I am grace.

(photo by Julie De Leon)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

When I say I love You

When I say "I love you," I give you a gift.

I give you a dagger. I point to my heart and say, "Here. This is where you can hurt me."

And I wait.

(photo by Julie De Leon)

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Do I Make You Proud?"

The piece of sky above the trees in the distance have turned from dark to a dull grey-blue. I scan the expanse, searching for my mother's spirit, knowing she's nowhere there.

Eleven hours ago, I was at the book launch of Motherhood Statements-- a collection of essays on mothers, motherhood and mothering-- where a piece I wrote is included. I was giddy. My first published essay! Friends and family came to show their support, their presence a gesture of unwavering faith and maybe even relief that finally-- finally!-- I've accomplished something that deserved their pride. My joy was great, but not quite complete.

I thought of my mother. My piece in the anthology was about her, after all, and about our long and painful relationship together. I thought of what she would have worn to the event, how uncomfortable she would have felt around the people who attended, how she would have been thinking that I wasn't dressed appropriately, and how this young writer Mookie, who read an excerpt from her essay, was so pretty and confident and had already achieved so much while I, her own daughter...

In the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense, my favorite scene was towards the end, when Haley Joel Osment's character finally admitted to his mom (played by Toni Collette) that he could see and speak to the dead. He said that he spoke to his grandmother, who told him that her answer to his mom's question was, "Always." When Haley Joel Osment asked his mom what the question had been, she replied: "Do I make you proud?"

At 42 and more than 5 years after my mom's death, I still measure my worth by her standards. I can still feel the shadow of her eyes burning through my skin-- watching me, appraising me-- and the cluck of her tongue, accompanied by a disapproving shake of her head, is almost audible. None of my children see dead people (thank goodness) and I am not courageous enough to stand by my mother's grave to ask whatever part of her that's left beneath that headstone if I make her proud, with any degree of confidence that the response would not be painful to hear.

It has been a challenge to break free from her opinion of me. Every Mother's Day, I offer her the gift of my perseverance to be better than she thought me capable.

To love myself as I deserve, that's my gift to myself.