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01 April 2010

THIS DRAG QUEEN IS NOT A HYR



If there be grace, this must be a part of it: I awaken to frost on the ground and a still-toasty house that has held its heat without the furnace kicking on. I pad about in sleep shirt and cap, naked from the waist down, needing neither sweat pants nor robe. "This is what grace feels like," I tell myself. "Grace warms."
Grace warmed my heart last evening. Coyotes had howled as I locked the chickens in for the night. Yet all my feathered friends were accounted for. Sometimes grace means making it through to bedtime.
I resolve to share my experience of grace with others today, make my world a warmer place. I start by asking myself, "How can I be graceful to Dave this morning?" I find my husband in the kitchen, tell him I enjoyed snuggling with him through the night. I make a small joke ("thank you for sleeping beside me, for not getting out to lie on the cold floor at 3:00 A.M.), then again speak my truth, "You are my north, my south, my east, my west." He looks at me, "I love you, too." And so we restate our love for each other as we do in myriad ways every day. After 14 years it is still brand new. Grace surprises.
When I was growing up, my very conservative church fellowship sang Amazing Grace so often I tuned it out. It's a tired old song, anyway, the crone who shows up at every funeral, black ostrich plume bobbing from her hat. Respectable, uplifting perhaps, and a bit clich├ęd. Whenever I heard the hymn’s opening notes on the church organ, I wanted to look for the coffin. Nevertheless, I loved an over-the-top rendition by The Impact Brass and Singers. The group toured the country as goodwill ambassadors for one of the Bible colleges our church supported financially. I still remember the first time they sang for us.
Soprano Cindy Phillips had made Amazing Grace her trademark solo. On that last verse, "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun...," Cindy let it rip, jumping several octaves, her voice rising to meet the sun, raising the roof, bringing our staid congregation nearly to its feet. Grace exceeds our expectations.
Even we knew a good thing when we heard it. Our church invited Cindy and the band back for the July 4 festivities, biggest event of the year in our small town. Her solo blew everyone away and scored us points with the community. Especially from Cindy's lips, grace amazes.
Dave and I perform our morning ablutions and leave for work together, he in the pickup, me in the car. I follow him for a mile. Before he turns right, I flash my bright beams three times to say, "I—love—you." He blinks his brake lights three times in response. Sometimes grace speaks in code.
Once at work, I promptly forget all about grace and being grateful, graceful in the riptide of the day. Yet life goes on doing its work without my participation. Fortunately, grace does not need my say-so.
Early afternoon I receive an e-mail message. A good friend died yesterday. Was found by his best friend who is also one of mine. Heart attack? Something quick, sudden, unexpected. No lingering death, his. Grace? If so, sometimes grace sucks.
Tomorrow will bring amazingly strong winds, warns the National Weather Service. Drivers of high profile vehicles should beware. People with lawn chairs, garbage cans, pets or small children should tie them down, adds the radio announcer. Grace sometimes issues bulletins.
Tomorrow will deliver a tragic accident to the highway near my workplace. A semi-tractor trailer, turn signal flashing, will wait to cross traffic. As my coworker sails by, slows to turn into our parking lot, a panel van will ram the back of the semi. My coworker will describe the explosion of glass, metal and colored plastic: "It was like fireworks!" Rescue workers will close the highway for over an hour as they clear debris, minister to the living. Sometimes grace is sailing on by.
How great our need for grace, for awareness of the moment, of the day, of the gifts given us every minute. An ostrich feather tickles my ear. That old drag queen Amazing Grace leans over, tells me to rise above complaining, self-pity, petty jealousies, thinking I'm not good enough. Life is short, honey, she says. Get a move on. Go all out. Hit the high notes.

This essay appeared in the April issue of The Letter.

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