The holiday season is upon us: an arctic front has barreled in and the view out my window is white and quiet; downtown opens its arms beautifully, its lights playing companionably with nature’s newly dropped snowflakes; all manner of Christmas music and bell-ringing Santa's welcome us at every store; traffic is hitting its most seasonal nightmare level; parties of all sizes and shapes are ramping up . . . and I find someone must be placing my book, Letters for Grace, in a Christmas stocking.
I’m my usual half hour later than the party’s start, and like any true introvert, I’m scoping out where I might sit or stand to be out of the direct line of the general party chaos (aka – joy, to party lovers), to enjoy it from outside the busiest circles. I’m excited to see a spot that’s close to the wine but a little out of a travel pattern. How did I get so lucky, I wonder, and not wanting to lose it, I begin to wend my way over. He intercepts me. “So, who’s Grace?” he asks. Yes, I know; I wrote a book with that word in the title but my eye is on the prize ahead and so the question and the guy both take me by surprise. “I’m sorry?” I say.
“Since you’re the author of a book we were given, I thought I’d catch you and ask before I get started on it. Who are these letters for? Is Grace your best friend? Or maybe it’s your dog. Do you have a dog named Grace.” He ends his questions with a smile. Oh, now I get it. But, I’ve discovered that I don’t do light repartee well when I’m asked questions about the subject of my book. And, I’ve never thought a party atmosphere lends itself easily to creating authentic connections – I guess I’ve thought that was never a party’s real purpose. Anyway, I do better with longer and less distracting discussions when I’m hoping to connect with someone seriously. Still, this man is kind enough to ask, and he has a copy of my book. So, I want to give it a try.
Grace, I begin telling him (and now his wife who has joined us) is actually a concept of hope-filled love, not a real person. In the book, Grace is my alter ego . . . my other side who is trying to understand what’s happened to me and what I’m meant to learn from it. Though I use a person’s name, treating her as if she is a good friend, Grace is really a metaphor for what I seek throughout the book – light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel, a bend in the road with a new course to travel.
So far, so good. No yawns yet. I go on by telling them I was trying to understand more about my son’s life and death and also figure out how I could chart a new course to reclaim a desire for living. So I wrote letters to son, Matt, and my pretend friend, Grace, to try and accomplish that. They became my listeners . . . my counselors, helping me search for the other Grace – the concept.
OK, I can see my listeners want to talk as well so I try to back out gracefully. Really, I say, the bottom line is I was on a quest for the same beauty this very season promises all of us: unearned but ever-present love and forgiveness; light to illuminate a new journey; the ability to believe in more than what we see around us; the undeniable knowledge that love’s power can always win . . . Grace.
They thank me for the conversation with gentle smiles and I thank them for wanting to know. They talk about looking forward to a Christmas visit from their oldest daughter, and then share a little of their worry about another daughter who’s drifting away from the family. And there is was – a real connection at a real party . . . and an important learning for me. As we exchange holiday pleasantries and talk about meeting after they finish the memoir, it feels as if light has come into the room.