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Let us be soft and lovely and full of grace.

Lovely. There is something so… well, lovely about the word lovely. And hardly anyone ever uses it anymore but then when we see it, or hear it, it is always a special treat. Maybe it’s an American thing, because I think British people do tend to say “Lovely” more than other English speakers. But British people also call you “Love” when they don’t really love you at all, so maybe we should be mindful about using the word, “Lovely” just as we should be careful when we call someone “Love.” Otherwise, the word will become diluted. There are enough words out there to use just the right one most of the time but instead we depend on a canon of 1000 words, more or less, and let our expressions, tone of voice and body language do most of the talking. The word, “awesome” has lost its awesomeness, and the question, “How are you?” rarely elicits a sincere response as it seldom is asked in earnest. That said, if and when you decide to tell someone that they are lovely, they will like it. Because people like to be lovely. It makes men feel like they are in the same league as Fred Astaire and it makes women feel like Princess Di. Lovely is a ragtime word that is strong enough to survive the ravages of time and make it into today where it can resume its proper position among all the other good words. But Lovely must be comported with prudence and precision and used in moderation. That said, go ahead. Be lovely. I guarantee that more dogs will come up to you to be petted, butterflies will be more likely to flirt with you, and shop girls will point out nice shirts and jewels that would look especially good on you which you didn’t notice in the shop before. It is true.

Be Soft. Let’s all go ahead and be very very soft. Let’s speak softly and walk softly and hold each other softly and think soft thoughts all the time. Let’s all be big softies and have lots of give and wear soft clothing that makes people want to touch us. Isn’t it wonderful how people in general and men in particular tend to go soft when they get older? Yes, yes, their bodies do soften, but I am talking about something else. Once the full-time work part of their lives starts to wane, the movers and the shakers in this hard fast modern rat race start to look at rocking chairs differently. The ‘more more mores’ loosen their grip, past accomplishments and offspring simply rest in being what they are rather than spinning around perpetually in woulda coulda shoulda land, and that’s when the kind of soft that I am talking about sets in. Sometimes, I catch my dad looking at me in this new, soft way. It feels buttery and velvety. Softness makes children want to climb into your lap and nurturing types will want to prepare delicious, hot drinks and soul food for you. There is a gorgeous surrender and a powerful letting go to going all soft. And it is just lovely.

Be full of Grace. The word, grace, is sometimes associated with God and Jesus and forgiving and miracles but I am not sure why because Yahweh of the Old Testament was a mean, angry old thing most of the time and, as far as I can see, Jesus was not much more than a troubled hippie with a lot of charisma. Yahweh was always smiting this person and that with boils and plagues and when he let up a bit, it wasn’t necessarily all of that infinite grace on His part that inspired him to pause; he might just as easily have moved onto something else and so stopped torturing Job or spared Abraham’s son from being sacrificed, as a kind of side effect of his short attention span. When I was in Argentina, watching big orcas bat little sea lion pups through the air with their tails, and teach their young ones to hunt, they didn’t leave the mauled seal pups on the beach as an act of grace or mercy. They just had just grown bored with the game and decided to move on, leaving a mangled pup gasping on the beach looking like a soggy baseball left behind in the outfield. Okay, so that particular seal pup didn’t get munched that day. Maybe it got survivor’s guilt and became a real Christian seal after that, but really, it was just lucky. Likewise, when a scarred up and battered Job realized that his troubles had subsided or Abraham was spared having to kill his son, this was not a function of grace, it was just God not being as vindictive as usual. An absence of cruelty doesn’t equal Grace. I think that many Christians use the word Grace to explain the inexplicable, which is an okay way of explaining things, but I say that Yahweh gives Grace a bad name.

Tulips opening and birds that soar, now those are our true teachers in gracefulness. After all, they are living things with DNA quite similar to our own. That makes us all part tulip and part condor. We share their rhythms and motions on a cellular level. We share in their grace.

Grace is what happens on a dance floor when your feet glide across it as the music moves you. People like to look at other people who are graceful. They pay lots of money to sit in big dance halls in the darkness, rubbing shoulders with strangers just to see someone moving gracefully before their eyes.

Grace is what we say just before sharing a specially prepared meal with people we cherish. I am not sure if saying Grace before digging in is supposed to be more about the eaters or that which is about to be eaten, but I think it is about all of it. It is a way of using words to capture and externalize that feeling of that moment when everything is untouched and glistening on big platters in front of you and you are there looking around a candlelit table at people whom you love. That feeling in that moment is Grace.

When someone says something painful to you and it stings and you spare them the indignity of a hurtful retort, this is being full of grace. When you are wrong and are shown to be so in a way that makes you realize your error without losing face, this is grace in action. Some people are really good at practicing this kind of diplomacy. Graceful people seem wise, and they often are. It is about being kind and full of compassion and mercy all at the same time. I went to lunch with my 85 year old great uncle Cliff a few days ago. And my, my, what an impressive checklist he has ticked off! He has been a lawyer and then a judge on some significant cases, then he was a lawyer again and wound down to being a mediator before cutting the work out of his days altogether and filling them up with golf and card games and conversation in its stead. He is an extremely astute man with a judge’s compassionate, no-nonsense gaze and I am pretty sure that he can read my mind and tell when I am exaggerating, as all good judges seem able to do. Therefore, I try to be very very honest when I am having lunch with my great uncle Cliff because I am sure that he will bust me if I lie. He always asks all about my family and this time, I told him that my dad is retiring in May. Now, I think that my dad should have retired a few years ago and forwent the extra 8 or 10,000 dollars he’d have made a year for sticking it out until this May, but my Dad wasn’t having any of it. He followed through with his plan and will retire this May at the age of 62.

I think it is a tragedy to retire so old, as I am already semi-retired at the age of 33 and enjoying it immensely, although I am poor poor poor. However, like a retired person, I wake up when I am ready to, most of the time, spend a fair amount of time farting around and having sudden adventures, and when I don’t get to drink my morning coffee prepared just exactly the way I like it to be, in the right cup at the perfect temperture, for the right amount of time, I go into a snit. I have the luxury of being particular about my habits, as a retired person with plenty of time on their hands can be. So, the poverty part seems a fair trade-off most of the time in exchange for being able to sit there and wait for my coffee to cool down and I do seem to have a lot of adventures, somehow.

Anyway, back to Cliff, when I told him that my dad was retiring and how late it was for him to be retiring, he pontificated on it for a moment, and said, “He has accomplished a lot of important work and made some impressive contributions to society.” That was all he said. But I deciphered the elegant hieroglyphics of what he had just said and understood the meaning of those words to be something a little bit more; Cliff was telling me that my father has worked just so long and long enough to do precisely the correct amount and type of work that is his part to fulfill during his lifetime. Cliff is full of grace that way.

Life can be quite vicious, you know. Sometimes we are thrust into clamorous, uncomfortable or even dangerous feeling situations where things are not looking okay at all nor do they look like they are going to become okay again any time soon. When that happens, look around for something soft, something lovely, something full of grace. The thing about Grace is that you can’t force it, just like you can’t force that tulip to open or that wind current to change. But we are continuously being exposed to it.

My friend, Eric, went to a prestigious, expensive art school that was super competitive and intense. I think that all of that money and expectation made him feel nervous. He was worried that he wasn’t receiving the best education that he possibly could for all of that money. And so with a class handout riddled with typos that the teacher had made in his grip, he went to talk to the head of the department about it. She is a hoity toity graphic designer who is super famous in the graphic design community. A genius. She was wearing a giant t-shirt dress that said across it, “Be soft and lovely.” How could you not be after seeing that shirt?

I was craving a border crossing the other day and was thinking about taking a road trip to Canada for the weekend. So I called my aunt Sarah in Vancouver and asked if she’d like a cameo from her niece this Saturday. She responded promptly via e-mail with a NO NO NO, as having just closed down her art show, Soul-Oh, she is now fully consumed by the business of being present in every moment of the sudden appearance of a tumor on her husband’s brain. She has been plunged into an immersion course in the language of neuroscience and watches and paces as they scan, measure, suck, shave and cut out parts of his brain. Sarah writes honestly about the horror and fear that is accompanying her during this time but she also brings into focus the splendid view of the city and the mountains that her husband has from his hospital room, which has been transformed into his Lion’s Den, his penthouse suite, of his tremendous inner resources which are serving him more than ever at this time, his easy, real connections with the entire staff at the hospital and all who pass by his bed. Writes my aunt Sarah: “He is in no pain... but surrendering to whatever is going on here is Fierce.” Oh yes, this is Grace speaking, too.

I am sitting in my studio at the old North Coast Seed Factory in Portland, Oregon, and I am trying to write. The bills and debts I have start bouncing around in my head. The lack of income coming in to offset those bills and debts joins in the chorus. And so I face the choir. I put away the writing and start making a to do list. Most of the items to be done do not involve writing. They say things like: “Edit A&R Video,” or “favicon.ico.” I have many many sketchbooks full of such lists. Given the ratio of money which owe to the money I make, I should be thoroughly sick of eating top ramen by now and really ought to be trying to write at my kitchen table in my 400 sq ft apartment instead of in my grandiose, light-filled studio with views of bridges on both sides. But I do not have a ramen-filled creatively-cramped existence here in Portland, because there is Eric, and now, there is also Joseph. They seem to have an unspoken agreement to take care of me, tag team style. Eric has me Monday through Thursday. Joseph has me Friday through Sunday. I feel like their favorite football. I don’t know how I got to be so unbelievably lucky, (angels! angels! all around!) but maybe it is has something to do with Grace. Eric and Joseph take me out to dinner, buy me groceries, throw me into their cars to go look at mountains and oceans, feed me books and culture and love me up, while I sit there, crunching money numbers and fretting. I should mention that Eric dances like an angel and Joseph knows how to make people feel safe. Eric and Joseph are soft and lovely and full of Grace.

My aunt Jean is in her late 80s. About 10 years ago, she said to me, “The worst thing about getting old is losing your dignity.” I never forgot that and now that she is in her late 80s, you have to yell into the phone to talk to her, help her up and down, feed her softer food and be very clear and gentle and loving with her. Still, she is, and always has been so dignified that the general caliber of any room rises with her entrance. Even as she surrenders her independence, and her mental acuity softens, it is her gracefulness that will save her. There will be no sudden avalanche into indignity for Jean. She is more soft and lovely than ever.

I am lousy at being in the moment as I am always trying to be super fabulous and over-the-top inspirational, not to mention on on on all the time. I blast up to the stratosphere just to feel a momentary tickle bump as I pass through glittering starlights only to plunge back down a moment later on the vomit comet and crash right into the bottom of my own personal cesspit of fear and mediocrity where I wallow and commune with some nasty mental slime for a while until I am thoroughly sick of being in such a dirty state and then proceed to heave myself back up out of the ground, grunting, hand over fist, to find tulips and crocuses blooming all around me. I lurch from flower to flower like an overweight hummingbird, the blooms straining under my weight as I suck suck suck their nectar until I am drunk and sick with their richness. But what the hell, I paid for this ride, might as well enjoy it, and so hands in the air, screaming my head off, over and over, round I go, when it will stop, nobody knows.

This grace thing just a choice, you know, it’s not an obligation. But Listen: We only have so many breaths and we only have so many heartbeats before we fade away. Don’t let this make you anxious. Just open up with the tulips and think like a condor. That looks like a nice current of air over there, let’s cruise over and be in it for a bit. Find a big body of water and trust it to guide you where it wants you to be. Get down on the ground and watch the plants move in unison to the tune of the breeze. No phoenix rising action on this front today. How ‘bout let’s NOT burn the fucker down for now? Let us be soft and lovely and full of grace.