Grace in disguises

FROM THE STANDS By Domini M. Torrevillas

The rains came down so hard my return home from a visit with a friend from Cambridge whom I had not seen for ages was delayed by heavy traffic, and when I reached home, I found my internet connection dead. With barely an hour left before deadline, I had to search for a column on standby, and found, among my old files, one written on March 28, 1991 whose topic is relevant to this day. So here is my piece, titled “Grace in disguises.”

The mail came very late last month. It seemed like Christmas again – in February. There was a card from Jim and Gina from Cambridge. There was a family portrait from the Dewares of Texas. The letter from Lem and Weena was a cheerful update on their daughter Rima’s comings and goings – her boundless energy for learning, her starting of cello lessons – and on the family’s moving to a bigger house soon. There was a lovely card from my sisters in Gingoog City. And a long hand-written letter with a couple of pressed autumn leaves from a male friend’s yard in Philadelphia. And then, a cup of prose from my college BFF now living in Massachusetts.

Oh the goodness of the mail coming in late. The days following the Christmas season having become ordinary and lacking in surprises, how delightful to find letters left by the postman at your doorstep, with pretty pictures of poinsettias, wreaths and fresh pine trees and fancily-wrapped gift boxes. What fine memories of past Christmases those letters that have slept out the holiday season inside canvas bags in the post office bring you.

Yes, tardiness has its rewards. Thank heavens for late arrivals, for Papa’s coming an hour after the school gates have closed to pick up a “forgotten” daughter. While waiting for dad, the little girl was able to play with a doll inside her school bag longing for her touch. A busy man gasping for deliverance from a traffic jam can mull over something personal that had not been given the courtesy of reflection. While waiting for the red light to turn green, a busy executive finally finds time to say a prayer, and female drivers savor the sight of a handsome guy crossing the street. A poet can write a poem, a news reporter the lead of a story.

They’re actually  “blessings” –  what we had thought were awful symptoms of premature senior moments.  Like missing a flight because of too much wining, only to read the news the next day that the same aircraft had crashed in a remote barrio. What a thrill that after regretting not buying a household appliance before its price went up, a relative brings you one day that very same item as a “belated wedding gift.” Gee, what manna a check handed you to pay for a “dead” debt when you’re down and out is. A photographer friend of ours had felt bad that the Iraq embassy in Manila was sitting on his application for a visa to Baghdad; and then, one day he read from the news wires that the Gulf War had erupted. His wife shouted for joy. “If your application had been accepted, you would have been caught in the middle of the war,” she told her husband. He smiled and pressed her hand.

Yes, we want our lives in good order and perfect bliss. And how we work toward perfecting our days and taming our desires. We expect clocks to strike at the appointed hour. Chocolates, candies and cakes are done exactly as the recipe book says they are at a certain temperature. Newspapers have to be put to bed on time so the presses can roll, trucks pick up the copies still sticky and smelling of raunchy ink, dealers tie them up into bundles and newsboys deliver them at your doorstep. There are the immutables – the sun rising and setting every day, of there being a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, of our cute babies growing up and getting married and leaving us, of our loving our grandchildren no end.

Things don’t always work out the way we want them to. And so it is that when something goes wrong, we can’t understand why they happened. One is late for work because the alarm didn’t go off. There are those little aberrations that cause no little amount of unpleasantness. The paychecks are delayed, and the bills are paid late. The salesgirls are slow in wrapping up your purchases. The plumber does not show up to fix a leak. The orchids have not bloomed. The ironing board is broken. Your burnt roast chicken is beyond saving. The afternoon is chilly on what the weatherman said would be a warm day. The telephone is “not in service” when you are expecting a long distance call. Shattered plans, broken dreams.

All these breaches have reasons. And they put us on the journey to a quiet sense of maturing, to a “yielding with a grace to reason.” For nothing can be as tyrannical as seeing gifts being given to other individuals – gifts that our hearts so earnestly desired for ourselves.  But in the end, we realize that we have become the better for our losses. 

The most poignant of human experiences should not lead us to endless despair. A heartbreak draws open curtains that blocked the sight of birds soaring in the sky, of leaves of trees swaying with the wind. You lose a child, but there are yet the other children in the family to love, cherish and nurture, who are alive and warm, and aching to fill the void their departed sibling had carved in your heart. There is the grace of the raw smell of wet earth and grass greening from the previous day’s rain that spoiled a picnic. There is the grace of friends praying and giving you bread for your journey. There is the grace of your painful lumbering up the hill to accept life’s irrational seasons – and surprisingly discovering the hand of the Almighty at work.

Finding the meaning of suffering brings forth that abundant season of grace. “I never knew, until now,” my friend from Newtonville wrote, “that pain is one of God’s disguises.”

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