Peace is grace for what you *can’t* see

Peace is grace for what you *can't* see // The Widow of an Indian Chief Watching the Arms of Her Deceased Husband. Joseph Wright of Derby (1785)

Last month I received some bad news – enough to shake me up pretty good. We’ve all been there: maybe someone you love gets in a car accident, maybe you blow an important work deal, break a leg, or lose your job. It’s bad news, but ultimately something you can get through, work out, and – hopefully – survive with grace. Grace for yourself and grace for those around you.

This is different than experiencing death or other profound loss.  This drudgery of grief grinds at the spirit but doesn’t destroy us. As a coping mechanism many bury their emotions and just… move on. They protect themselves by “holding it together.”

Peace is grace for what you *can't* see // There were no crops this year

But grief finds the cracks and shows up in unexpected ways.

After an hour of cleaning the kitchen (my first line of defense against stress and grief), I drove to the craft store, thinking I’d get some supplies to do a little art therapy. I stared at the black ink pens for so long that it would be reasonable to think I was either a shoplifter or had fallen asleep. Suddenly, I realized what was wrong: I needed something more than art therapy. I needed a friend. My husband, a.k.a. my bff, was in bed, sick, and I knew he needed rest.

I pulled out my phone, hoping to muster the courage to tell one of my friends that I wanted needed to hang out. I scrolled through dozens of names, making excuses for why they wouldn’t be able to meet me. She’s probably putting the kids to bed. I don’t want him to get the wrong idea. I just hung out with her for the first time last week. They’re out of town. She’s trying to start a business; how could I pull her away from her limited family time? I bet she’s in the middle of dinner.

And on went the excuses, the names blurring together into one big “NO.”

Peace is grace for what you *can't* see // The First Grief (Le Premier Chagrin) by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1892, Brigham Young University Museum of Art

Why is reaching out so hard?

I’ve spent my whole life battling the feeling that I am an inconvenience to others. I decide for my friends that they don’t have time for me, leaving Keith as my primary sounding board. I’m sure a therapist would assert that this is a simple equation, involving the number of foster homes I was in as a child, multiplied by the number of times I felt unconditionally loved in those homes. But I don’t think it’s that simple.

This is not a problem limited to people who’ve been in foster homes. I’ve spoken to many people who confide that they, too, find themselves scrolling through their phones or Facebook, unsure of who to reach out to.

It’s simple, really:

We have a deluge of contacts, but a drought of meaningful connections.

Peace is grace for what you *can't* see // FORSAKEN. FROM THE PICTURE BY JULIUS BENCZUR (19th century)

As I stood there in the marker aisle of that big box craft store, staring at my phone, trying to muster the courage to text a friend, I completely tuned out the world around me. It was then that two men walked up. I didn’t see them. I didn’t hear them. I had no idea any one was near me. I just kept scrolling through my address book.

“Don’t move.” The words were spat out with equal parts anger and sarcasm.

I whipped my head up. One man was pushing another in a wheelchair. My cellphone and I were blocking their path. Mortified, I apologized as earnestly as I could. Neither man looked at me, though one did roll his eyes. They went on their way, deciding, I’m sure, that I was some cellphone obsessed flake with no consideration.

I felt like a jerk. As shame took over, the grief that landed me in the pen aisle in the first place – the grief that I’d worked so hard to “manage” – found the cracks and spilled out. I started crying right there, in front of the black ink pens. It was the last straw on a weird day.

Let me be clear: I am certain those men deal with oblivious people all the time. They have their own inner story, their own daily grind of grief.

So what are we to do with ourselves? With our neighbors?

How can we help when we don’t know the first thing that’s happening with the strangers who cross our paths?

Peace is grace for what you *can't* see // "Sketch of Four Faces - Katsushika Hokusai" by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) - Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 38.154_IMLS_PS3.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Sketch_of_Four_Faces_-_Katsushika_Hokusai.jpg#/media/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Sketch_of_Four_Faces_-_Katsushika_Hokusai.jpg

Start with grace. You never know what someone is going through.

The person running the red light, the person being rude to a cashier, the person laughing too loudly, the too quiet person, the distant person, the angry person… You just never know. This world is a knotted collection of feelings and if we’re ever going to figure out peace, we’re going to need to figure out compassion for ourselves and others.

And it starts by understanding that we all have something hidden inside, something that motivates us to behave as we do.

Situations escalate when we react impulsively, without stopping to consider the “hidden lives” before us – those stories we can’t comprehend unless someone specifically shares them with us. Certainly, this doesn’t mean people get a free pass to hurt others, but whenever we stumble upon conflict, it helps if we start with an attitude of love and kindness.

A friend of mine once said: be kinder than necessary, you really have no idea what someone is going through.

If ever there’s a secret to peace, that, my friends, is it:

Peace is grace for what we can’t see.

May we all experience such grace.
And may we offer it, without condition and with pure, childlike love.

Peace is grace for what you *can't* see // Jack Rabbit (Shi-Ko-Da) by Grace Carpe

Artwork in order of appearance:

“Widow of an Indian Chief Watching the Arms of Her Deceased Husband.” Joseph Wright of Derby (1785)

“”There Were No Crops This Year” by Charles White (1940)

“The First Grief” (Le Premier Chagrin) by Daniel Ridgway Knight (1892).

“Forsaken.” From the picture by Julius Benczur (19th century)

“Sketch of Four Faces” by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) (~1760-1849)

“Jack Rabbit (Shi-Ko-Da)” by Grace Carpenter Hudson (1919)

21 Comments

  1. Ryan says

    As I started to read this, I thought, what perfect timing for me to read this as my world has been significantly rocked this week. But then I kept reading and realized I was on the other end of that address book. I’m glad we hung out that night and I think we made a good night of it. Even if I did force you to over indulge in the worlds best cheese fries. Feel free to text me any time! And thanks for the (well timed) post.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Sorry for the week you’ve had and grateful for your company. You got me laughing again! “This, too, shall pass.”

  2. A very poignant story. Be kinder than necessary. So true but we often forget this. I have a friend who is a women although she bothers me incessantly I always answer her call or text. Because she is often kind I accept her foibles Who knows what challenges she is goes through. She has become my muse in a sense. Insisting we meet for coffee before I head off on a trip, wishing me a safe journey and checking to make sure I arrived safely.

    Well I hope you are OK Sasha and hope the bad news is replaced with good memories. Thank you sharing that with us and we in turn will give the virtual company that we can provide. It is not the same as hanging out face to face, but I am sure you can still take comfort in that.

    • Sasha Martin says

      We all need someone to check in on us from time to time. A good reminder to not wait until the next “situation” to connect. Thanks.

  3. Susan Heine says

    JESUS, The Lamb of GOD, knows what it feels like to be forsaken by comrades, betrayed by a “friend” and ignored by most of the people HE created. HE is close to the broken hearted and those who are crushed in spirit HE saves. Shalom, Susan Heine

  4. I found you and your blog when I read your memoir last year and was deeply moved by your story and your journey. I know this place where one final drop is all it takes to make brewing tears brim over and start to run. Sometimes it is one act too many of not being seen, just as you describe. Other times it has come from being seen.

    From Ryan’s comment above it sounds like you found a way to take that risk that so many of us, myself included, have trouble making, for all the reasons you list. And that it helped. Our friends are precious beyond measure, aren’t they? I, too, am working on this.

    I am finding that it is these acts of kindness that I apply towards myself that seem like the critical thing to shift. For me, it’s been an ongoing learning process. It has often been easier to think of being kind to others than to myself. What a remarkable concept, when you get down to it. That I might be so low on that list of those to love.

    And so I continue to work with myself in this – that I, too, am worthy of love and kindness and gentleness. And friendship and care. That I, too, have friends who really DO want to spend time with me. It is still often surprising. And it feels like a process. One of “growing in new receptors” – ones that didn’t have the opportunity to grow early in life.

    Sending you tender and gentle care for this period that you are going through and appreciation for what it’s like to share this kind of vulnerable experience.

    • Sasha Martin says

      I love this – we DO need to be kind to ourselves and believe ourselves worthy of love… that we are, in fact, not a bother. I’m glad you’re on the journey – I’m growing new receptors right here with you!

  5. Cynthia says

    Life is short
    and we do not have too much time
    to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us.
    So be quick to love.
    Make haste to be kind
    .
    -Swiss philosopher Henri Amiel
    paraphrased & said most Sunday’s as a benediction by our pastor
    She sends me off with a great sense of purpose each week.

    I always have felt that my times of terrible grief and stress have at least given me true empathy.
    My very best to you as you and yours deal with this.

  6. Carol says

    We are all moving so fast and filling every moment with somethings…we need to allow time for someones. I find when I finally make time to meet with a friend, we talk so fast, that our souls never really relax and we don’t get to enjoy each other’s presence. I wish you well and hope you are feeling some peace.

    • Sasha Martin says

      I know exactly what you mean! I have one friend in particular we only ever seem to “catch up”

  7. Kim says

    Thank you, Sasha for your important thoughts, which are always so well said. One thing the journey of motherhood has taught me is to never judge, as we never know the steps that someone has had to take in those shoes (picture tantrums in public places…there are so many reasons besides what the observer sees). The world would be a better place if we can approach others, not as we see them, but from a place of greater understanding and absolute kindness. I love your friend’s idea of being “kinder than necessary…”, as it truly provides the space to see the world from a more objective perspective.

    Your writing is also a good reminder that friendship is so valuable. We all love to feel needed and helping someone through a difficult time provides benefits to both parties. Interesting that it’s usually easier to be on the receiving end, rather than to reach out to others, but it’s such an important and positive step in one’s grief.

    Thank you again for sharing in such a moving way. I wish you much support and good thoughts for whatever you may be experiencing at this time.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Tantrums in public are especially hard … from the outside you can really never know how tired/hungry/stressed/sad a child is or why. I always have a lot of compassion for mother and child in those moments.

    • Sasha Martin says

      I wish I could come over and have a glass of wine with you right now!

  8. Julie Weeks says

    Wishing you peace, Sasha! Thank you for this tender, loving essay.

  9. Heather says

    Beautifully written and a wonderful reminder to have the courage to reach out and also be compassionate -to ourselves and others. Big hugs.

  10. Sophie H says

    I am always flattered when a friend chooses to reach out to me when they’re having a tough time. That’s one of the things friends are for, so let them decide for themselves what they can deal with.
    I know it’s not the same, but you should remember that you also have your ‘virtual’ friends and followers who think of you with such warmth. xx

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