Once you've had a knee replacement, you're required to pre-medicate with a large dose of antibiotics one hour before a dental procedure. Unfortunately, this routine is not yet automatic for me. Last Thursday afternoon I arrived at the dentist's office right on time for my six-month cleaning. Krystal, the hygienist, ushered me to the exam room about five minutes later, and asked how I was, followed by "Did you pre-medicate?" The broad smile on my face quickly vanished as I admitted that I had totally forgotten. She touched my arm gently and said, "Let's go see when we can reschedule." I began apologizing about wasting her time; she assured me she'd find something to do.
While I'd been in the waiting room, I'd noticed a woman dressed in bright pink shorts with a matching top that nicely set off her stylish brown hair. She had seemed anxious and had kept her eyes focused on Debbie, the receptionist. Another patient had arrived and spoken to the lady in pink, and I'd heard her respond that she was hoping they'd work her in.
After I made a new appointment for my cleaning, Debbie offered to call and remind me about the medication next time. I accepted gratefully, and we spent a few minutes chatting. Behind me I heard Krystal's voice saying, "Yes, I can take care of it."
As I started to leave, another staff person was telling the woman that they could accommodate her. She glanced at me curiously, and I explained why I had to cancel. "My goof is your gift," I said lightly.
She beamed and then answered with intensity, "Oh yes, I believe that." Then she told me she was a cancer survivor and had recently had a follow-up MRI and PET scan. The results revealed something in her jaw that could be cancer, and her doctor had asked her to get a dental X-ray and exam. "I can deal with the cancer," she said, "I've done that before. But I couldn't deal with not knowing. I couldn't just go back to work. So I prayed and came here."
I paused at the front door of the office and said, "It was a moment of grace for both of us, because I was bothered about wasting people's time, and now I feel better." Krystal called her to come for the X-ray and I waved and said, "Good luck."
Next stop was the library, which is housed in a renovated historic building, and it was a struggle to open the heavy front door. I returned one book and renewed another, then sighed as I faced the door again. Just as I raised both hands to push my way out, a boy, about seven years old, came running across the lobby; he put his hands below mine and pushed open the door, then stood aside and held it as I exited. I thanked him and he smiled and ran off down the steps.
The word "grace" is a favorite of mine. It has many shades of meaning such as elegance, refinement, polite behavior, blessing, and the unmerited favor of God. At one of the meetings of my writing group, Barbara, a very busy member, read several pages from what she called a Grace Diary. It was full of amazing little stories that captured moments when someone helped her or something happened that removed a problem. She started every beautifully written vignette with the words "Grace is when..." Barbara told us that she reads the diary when her spirits are low, and it cheers her up to remember the kindness of people. I thought briefly about starting my own diary, but I knew it would feel like another responsibility, and I don't need any more of those. Instead I decided I would just start paying more attention to such moments in my own life.
The cap on my car's gas tank has one of those double-click closures and it's hard for me to open, given the reduced strength of my arthritic right hand. Generally my family keeps the tank filled. However, recently I got in the car to do a short errand and saw that I needed gas. I was lending my car to a friend for the weekend, and no one was home to help. On my way to do the dreaded chore, I silently prayed that I would find the strength to get the cap off and then back on again at the end. As I pulled into the station a middle-aged man in work clothes and boots was hanging up the hose after fueling his car. He waited while I parked next to the tank and opened my door. Then he stepped up and said, "Would you like me to pump your gas?" I accepted with enthusiasm and thought of Barbara's diary.
Unexpected moments of grace didn't just start happening to me when my hair turned gray. If I'd been keeping grace diaries, I would have a shelf full of volumes. I was married in 1953 and had three babies in four years. During five of the preschool years, we lived in the country, a short distance from town. In those days there was no 911 or any local ambulance service. There also was no free kindergarten, so the only preschool opportunities were playgroups that mothers organized now and then. My husband Bill used our car to commute. I was a worrier and used to wonder what on earth I'd do if one of my toddlers had an accident I couldn't fix with a brightly colored band-aid.
One day my three-year-old son Robin had a close encounter with a back yard fence and somehow his eyelid was ripped open. I grabbed a towel to apply some pressure as Robin sobbed—I tried to think of anyone who lived close by and might be available to help. Just then I heard a car pull into our driveway. It was a casual friend who lived a few miles away. She immediately offered to take us to the doctor. Four-year-old Kevin hopped in the back seat and my friend loaded baby Melissa into her portable carrier and put her next to Kevin. (There also were no child car seats back then.) I sat in the front cradling Robin in my arms. As we headed toward town, my friend told me that as she had neared my house she had a sudden urge to stop by and say hello.
It was clearly an emergency and the doctor took Robin in immediately, gave him a tetanus shot, applied a topical anesthetic, and prepped him. As he got ready to stitch the eyelid, he looked me and said, "I hope I get this right. I only have one eye kit." He opened the sterile package and lifted the small curved needle with surgical thread already in place and began to mend the rip. Robin was very still, and the doctor slowly completed his work.
When I had time to exhale, I marveled that after all my fretting and worrying, in two moments of grace, a friend responded to an urge and provided transportation, and our small town doctor had one eye kit and got it right. My life has been full of such interactions in many parts of the world, sometimes with no common language to ease the way. In turn, I've tried during my life to respond to urges as my friend did, and I taught my children to pay attention to their hunches, because (to quote my mother), "Maybe an angel is whispering in your ear."