There but by the grace…

by luciditewriting

Today I did something I rarely do; I palmed a homeless man a bill. Typically I’ll go buy a sandwich for someone in need, or if I have some food in my car I’ll pass it out the window. I learned this by watching my parents do it when I was a kid. I almost never hand over money. I’m not trying to say that I am indifferent to the situation. Far from it. I just prefer to plan my assistance a bit better, whether it’s in the form of a donation to a non-profit or something as “small” as buying a cheeseburger to make sure the person has food in his or her belly. [Full disclosure: This is probably the result of spending too much time in Europe, but I am always a bit skeptical of people on the street corner or in metro stations who only seem interested in money.]

I saw him as I was about to exit 394 today. As I inched up the exit ramp, I wondered if I still had a granola bar in my bag that I could hand him. My gaze traveled past his soaked boots, his cracked hands holding the a “will work for food” sign and up to his face. He looked like my dad or one of my Westmoreland uncles. Another path, another place, a missed opportunity. On autopilot, I reached for a bill in my wallet, rolled down my window and planted it in his freezing hand.

Sure, most of us work hard for what we have, and that’s something to be proud of. But I’ve got to believe that a large part of my happiness and success has to do with much more than hard work. It’s the result of being born into a wise and supportive family and community, of having the opportunity to see, learn, and understand things that I would not have had I been born into any other situation at any other time. It’s partially the result of the decisions I’ve made, yes, but it has everything to do with the people who have been there waiting to help me at each turn.

I don’t pretend to understand God or theological matters. There are those much better poised than I to address such things. John Bradford’s oft-quoted phrase popped into my head as I drove away from the exit today: “There but by the grace of God go I.” It bothered me, which is why I’m writing on it. It’s easy to leave the concept of grace neatly tucked away in the realm of the abstract or the divine. However, based on what I’ve seen, learned and understood in my short life, I have to believe that the concept of grace has much more to do with those around us, with the people we encounter each day, than most of us realize.

One of the many definitions of “grace” is “goodwill.” So simple yet such a nebulous concept— most of us purport to be supporters of it, yet it easily becomes lost in paradigms of entitlement and systems that encourage greed. I am grateful for who and what I have in my life. Do I believe I am entitled to this happiness, that I alone have somehow “earned” it? Not for a second. The truth is that I am here by of the grace of many (be they earthly or divine) who have shown me goodwill and given me the opportunity to thrive. It is only natural that I continue the cycle, even when my actions seem small, unplanned or inconsequential. Impact happens at many levels. My project for 2011 is to explore grace in its myriad forms, to better understand what connects me to this world and those in it.