Monday, August 28, 2023

When Grace Fails

Hello Invisible Audience,


I am home, on my couch. It is Monday evening, and I have been here since Friday afternoon, after I limped up to my front door after a week-long vacation with friends. The week had ended with a sore throat and a rolled ankle that the emergency room had just informed me was not broken.


My cold is worse than it was on Friday. Despite multiple days of lying on the couch, sucking down herbal teas and chicken soup, the congestion is the same—I’ve gone through nearly three boxes of Kleenex—and as of last night I have a hacking cough.


Today I canceled all my plans for the week: a physical therapy appointment; a private lesson I was supposed to teach; a haircut. I managed to ask one neighbor to pick up a grocery order for me at Fred Meyer; another neighbor brought me a COVID test and is going to pick up some prescriptions for me tomorrow. Those last two things are a big f’ing deal, considering how hard it is for me to ask for help. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what it feels like when grace fails.


When I lived in Panama, I had a lot of really shitty things surface in therapy. At one point, my therapist there told me that I was handling all that emerged with a lot of grace. I took this to mean that I was accepting things well and seeking ways forward through the muck that kept coming up. 


I’ve thought a lot about that for a long time, Invisible Audience, because even if I was accepting things with grace then, I don’t feel like grace is part of my repertoire anymore.


I’ve been through a lot in general, but especially in the past 10 years or so. A lot of my pain has been physical, and it seems never-ending: Lyme disease, mold sickness, foot pain, neck pain. Colds, sinus infections that lasted months. I suspect many treatments made things worse, like the 10 rounds of antibiotics I had in a year that caused a bunch of food sensitivities that had never been there before.

 I do not have any grace left to give, Invisible Audience. And I think that’s ok…because although I don’t think this was how my therapist meant it, I think a lot of people look at people who are suffering and think that the only suffering that is worthy is the suffering done with grace.


This is total, absolute, bullshit.


We have several narratives in our culture that are dangerous. if you work hard enough, you can have whatever you want. You get what you deserve. Attitude is everything. And even though it’s not quite as blatant as the others, there is another one that is just as insidious: if you’re suffering, be sure that suffering is admirable in some way. 


Suffer to make someone else’s life better. Suffer to prove your worth. Suffer because you have to, okay, but damn it, do it with a smile, and faith. Do it in a way that inspires others. Get them to talk about how upbeat you are as you’re beaten down. Forget how you’re actually feeling. What we want to hear is how you minimize it to make the rest of us feel better; to make it possible for the rest of us to forget our own mortality, even as we’re staring yours in the face.


I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but those thoughts have been top of mind for the last several days as I’ve laid on the couch, yet again. I’ve been thinking about how many times I’ve kept my bouts on the couch to myself, not because I wanted to be alone, but because I didn’t have anything positive to say or learn from my pain. I cut myself off from contact because if I’m tired of how often I’m sick, how could anyone else not be?


There is no grace here, Invisible Audience. There are no fairies that are flying around granting me fewer sneezes because I’ve managed to make jokes about how crappy I feel. No one has shown up to give me the martyr award for suffering best in silence. I am not winning anything by fighting to present grace instead of what is really here with me. Resentment. Fatigue. The beginning of a temper tantrum because life is so fucking unfair. And so. Much. Snot.


Is it the worst place I’ve ever been? Definitely not. But I shouldn’t have to do that: compare it. Say it’s not so bad. Say things could be much worse. Even if all of that is true, it could also be better. And naming what it actually is does not give it less value than blind grace would.


Love and snotty, graceless kisses,


P.S. I had a hard time keeping up with my blog lately, but what writing I have done over the summer has gone to my patrons on Patreon. You can check out my profile here. Pledge as little as $1.50 a month to get access to more of my ponderings and become one of my Semi-Invisible Patrons. When I can't find time to post both here and on Patreon, I prioritize posts on Patreon instead.