You Can’t Take “It” With You; But You Can Pass It On
By Jane Tawel
January 1, 2021
So, this is what the start of a new year looks like and frankly I am unimpressed. We woke up today, thinking somehow the worst year on record for most of us would be immediately left behind. We all had such high hopes for 2021, because let’s face it, anything had to be better than 2020. And yet is it? Is it really? And then it hit me that every year we go into the start of this new day as if suddenly we are going to make big changes, keep inspired resolutions, be all that we can be, and just do it — and yet, today is merely the start to a new year because we say it is. Many other cultures choose different days to reboot, to restart, to call it on the last year, and call out hopes for a new beginning. And while I felt a deep sense of both ennui and sorrow today when I realized that nothing much had changed — I was still living in a world of raging dictators and raging viruses and rushing humans and roaring need and of course, worst of all my own peccadilloes and broken pieces. But at the same time, by being a day like any other, it meant that I could choose to make it a new start for myself no matter what the date said. And I could also choose to accept that all the things in my life that were part of the “old” life, the past, the previous, and yesterday, were things I could choose to embrace or not.
I mean, I might not be able to change any of it, but I could look it all in the eye and say, “okay, take a seat at the table”. Whether you are a past part of my life like a stinky, yucky, rude guest, something like a mega-virus or bad relationship or the death of someone I so loved; or you are a sweet, clean, polite part of my life like that lovely meal I once had in Provence or the births of my babies, or that student I taught who thought I was a great teacher — no matter what –Today — I will accept you as a vital, living entity appearing in the crowd of that which surrounds who I am. Mr. or Ms. Part of my Life, whether good or bad, I accept that you may stay as that fork in my road, that stone in my path, that mountain I climbed, or river I easily floated down. You, no matter how good or bad, are a part of my journey here on earth and you may enter. So, this morning, I opened up the arms of my soul and said, “All that has been, I will welcome you”.
And that is the moment, when Grace appeared. Grace didn’t show up because I wished or prayed it into being. It wasn’t because I had a religious epiphany or made a conscious choice to believe it. Grace appeared despite everything then and now. Grace appeared because I felt it. I simply felt that Grace was also there at the table of my life. Grace was being offered as a Gift. I could choose to welcome it or I could refuse it as I so often have.
And Grace meant that all that had come before no matter how awful, painful, unjust, evil, boring, irritating, angering, hateful, or just plain bad; it could all be made good in my own life if I let myself welcome Grace. I didn’t need to know how or why, I just needed to hold the gift of grace close to myself. But I also, because I was supposed to be thinking about the future on this randomly chosen new start to a new year, had to anticipate the gift of Grace for the future. I had to accept that Grace would also be there waiting in the bend up ahead. Grace would be plentiful in the future, even if today felt just as fearful and overwhelming and boring and plain bad as yesterday was. Grace would appear and it would wait for me to pick it up and unwrap it and accept it. Grace would be there tomorrow, even if I didn’t see it, or feel it, or accept its offering. Grace would be the gift that keeps on giving.
I am generally very bad at accepting gifts. I could go into all the psychology behind that but for now suffice it to say that I am as bad at accepting compliments, help or gifts from humans as I am at accepting gifts or grace from God. To accept Grace feels uncomfortable to me. Grace makes me feel my unworthiness and at the same time an anxiousness. In the same way that I don’t like even the people I love most in the world giving me a present or telling me I look nice, I don’t like Life cutting me slack or God giving me grace. Grace appears to me as an unreality; something I can not understand. It’s a problem. Of course, that is why, as I realized today, Grace can only be felt, be imagined, be dreamed while awake. Because Grace is not a part of the reality we create and live, it is a part of the reality that only the Divine and the divine inside us can create and gift to others. Grace is the gift of the gods, the gift of the Earth, the gift of god-ness in an individual, and the gift of the God Who Loves.
This year my children gave me a wonderful gift for Christmas. Today, on New Year’s First Day, their gift has helped me understand a bit better how truly my life has been filled with the gift of Grace even when — perhaps especially most when — I didn’t even know it. My darling adulting children gave me a beautiful little pottery jar with little bees pictured on it and the words, “Bee Happy” and inside they had each written on little slips of paper a host of their favorite memories of being with me. I was instructed to pull one out each time I needed to “Bee Happy”.
My naughty “little” children love to give me something that makes me cry with a joy I feel I don’t deserve but which overwhelms me, so you might imagine when I opened this gift surrounded by masked pandemic-protecting kids and kids faraway in presence but never in thoughts appearing on Zoom — I broke down in tears of — well, I realize as I am writing this — I broke down in tears of heart-felt, soul-felt, overwhelming acceptance of the feeling of Grace. Because I will tell you frankly — I was not a perfect mom, and still am not; but the gift of it all is that my children still love me and have enough good memories of me to fill a jar –and that, my friends — that is Grace. That indeed is grace for me and, oh, my mother’s heart! — that is also, grace for them.
Grace is like the bees — miraculous, common, un-holdable, free and absolutely vital. And the problem we have is because we can’t earn grace and can’t keep captive grace and know we don’t deserve grace, we often don’t acknowledge or accept grace.
It is Grace that has allowed me such joy as those four kids and their father have given me. It is grace that I have had some wonderful coworkers and nice neighbors, some good friends and generous bosses. It is grace that I survived childhood and had my own loving mother and got to go to school and Sunday School and learn and play and work and travel and snuggle and enjoy and grow — and well, all of it, right? ALL. OF. IT. And what has held “it” all up and held “it” all together and been there without my effort or ability or even mostly my acknowledgement — has been Grace.
The Gift of Grace has been there for my taking all along and even when I clenched my fists or refused to hold out my arms to accept it, it infused my whole life like a sweet-smelling incense. Grace has lighted my way through the tough times and the darkness, like a thousand candles appearing miraculously along the way. Grace has been there, as well, in all the positives; it has been the constant gifting throughout the whole arc of my life, un-thanked, ungraciously ignored, a gift in every good thing, and every good person that has ever happened to me. Grace gave me new beginnings even when I thought I was stuck in the ruts of yesterday. Grace gave me hope even when I thought there was none. Grace has no boundaries and no end because it comes from a God and from the God-ness in each of us that has no boundaries and will have no end. Grace, like Love, remains forever pulsing throughout the universe, as a divine, unknowable, but un-refusable gift.
So, although we are told we can’t take anything with us, we can pass things on. And that is the greatest grace of all. We may think we work hard to leave a legacy of some kind or other, but all that “stuff” will pass away. The Grace of Love and the Love of Grace are all that we leave and all that we have ever really had. Today, this first day of 2021, I resolve to myself and others, to believe, that tomorrow, and perhaps, even for an eternity, we will also have available for the accepting, the Gift of Grace. Today I will let myself simply feel the gift of grace.
Rather than make resolutions that I won’t keep or be able to keep; rather than try to outguess tomorrow or rectify yesterday; I will be here and now just for today and be open to the Gift of Grace. I will think about who I have been and who I am and be content that some of that has been good enough to pass on to my children and husband and friends and coworkers and neighbors and strangers. And I will accept that I have passed on many bad things and wrong ways to those others, (and we do pass on the bad as well, don’t we? Especially mostly to those we love most and would rather not pass on anything bad. But we do. Oh, yes, we do.). I will accept that passing on bad things are just part of being human and I can resolve not to pass on so many bad things in the future, but I know I will need a lot of grace to keep that resolution.
But I will also try to accept in my heart of hearts, that when I leave this life, even though I have passed on bad things, I won’t be able to take those bad things with me any more than I will be able to take the good things along. I will try to “feel” that even though I left those bad things behind for and in the people I love, they, too, will find the gift of grace when they need it. That is a gift of grace I want to welcome deep into my soul today — not to know, but to dream a dream that when I leave “my people” to wake on another shore, I will find that grace lets us leave the bad things behind and go into the future with arms wide open to accept the unreal, unimaginable reality of Grace.
Today, I will let myself open up my hands a little more and make my arms a bit wider, so I can graciously accept the gifts of others, the gift of being alive, the gifts of my past, present and future; and the gifts of a Gracious God, Who Is, and Who offers each of us the unfathomable Power of Grace-filled Love.
Today I resolve to leave behind that which I can’t take with me. Today I begin to feel and welcome the gift of grace alive in the world and in me. Today I pass on, the very real dream and hope of a New World filled with the gifts of Grace.
© Jane Tawel 2020