In the class I’ve been taking, we’ve been talking a lot about the Christian concept of grace. If I’m going to be honest, I never devoted much thought to the idea until the discussion arose. Grace is one of those words that I’ve never really gotten before. I understand physical grace. I even (kind of) understand (but don’t necessarily agree with the specifics of) the grace of character that Schiller talks about in Über Anmut und Würde, but for me the religious concept of grace never had really resonated much.
Grace is one of those uncomfortable words like testify, sanctify, righteous, and witness that belong to the ubiquitous they. Those words belong to overzealous youth group members, the right wing and born again, surgically preserved old ladies with giant slug lips, teased out pinkish-blue wigs, makeup so thick it can only be chipped off via chisel, and massive spider lashes. The old ladies, especially, possess not only the ability to cry on cue, but also the fortitude to stand by their men, when they are implicated in the embezzlement of church funds. They are not words that belong to me. And yet…
Something in the discussion made me think of my grandmother. When I think of grace, I think of Oma. Born in during the last year of World War I, she lived through Nazism, the rise of Communist East Germany, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. My sweet gray-eyed grandmother saw some atrocious things in her life, but she never lost her connection to or desire to help others. She was the kind of person who, after the war was over, dragged in every hungry refugee and hobo, making sure they were fed. When people asked her why, she said “I have a brother who was lost in the war. If he’s making his way home, I hope someone’s feeding him too.” So, Oma had a sandwich for everyone, even if that meant there was none left for her.
One of my favorite stories about her involves the time after the war when she, Opa, my mom and my aunt were shared a cramped, one bedroom apartment with an elderly man, who had no family left. In those days, so many people were displaced that it was not uncommon to find strangers sharing a home, a garden hut, a room. As time went by, Oma noticed whenever she cooked that part of the food would disappear as soon as she turned her back. Even though he tried not to take enough to arouse suspicion, it soon became obvious that the old man was pilfering from the soup pot.
Did Oma indignantly step into her rage cage and chastise the old man? Did she just pretend not to notice, but keep a more protective eye on the family meals? She did neither! One day when the old man came in, she casually said to him “Hey! I’ve been thinking. You’re all alone, and I have to cook for Erich and the girls anyway. Why cook for yourself when I already have to do it? Why don’t you just eat with us from now on?” That, my friends, is grace.