Endeavoring to recall scraps of something I read decades ago, the name of a minor actor in an old movie, the closing chapter of a novel I last read when I was an undergraduate – these are some of the so-called signs of aging.
Because I am so compulsive, I rarely misplace items such as car keys, my reading glasses or my wine glass, but I do occasionally struggle to recall the exact source of some detail that seems important when I want to retrieve it. The name of the minor actor is usually not a nagging sense of failure, but only because I’ve learned to verify it via the wonders of the Internet. If I can recall the title of the film or even one of the other actors in it, I can track down the full cast and solve my problem. Who says I’m not a “modern woman”?
Much to my chagrin, my first name is “Patsy,” though I have never used it and although Medicare does. It was an ongoing humiliation to me as a youngster when wit-would peers would refer to me as “PG,” as in “pregnant.” Though none of us had any clear idea what “PG” was or what caused it, the nickname still implied something better left unsaid ““ something mysterious and maybe even nasty. Ah, those good old days.
Perhaps because of this embarrassment, combined with my adult obsessive ways, I’ve decided my first name with that initial letter “P” should have been “Persevering.”
As that official reminder to count one’s blessings ““ Thanksgiving ““ approaches, I always, somewhat compulsively, start reflecting on mine, conducting a sort of annual assessment. This year I fixated on some lines I vaguely recalled from Andre Dubus and sought to locate them.
First, I took from the shelves my 1996 copy of his short story collection, “Dancing After Hours,” feeling sure the lines were there. Rapid scanning of the pages convinced me that I was wrong. So, as if I were a cartoon character in a comic strip, I slapped myself on the side of my head, muttered, “Eureka,” and knew the lines must have been in an essay.
Thanks to the instantaneous response of Amazon “one -click ordering,” I had before me Meditations from a Movable Chair, and immediately found the lines I’d been floundering around for: “A sacrament is physical, and within it is God’s love; as a sandwich is physical, and nutritious and pleasurable, and within it is love, if someone makes it for you and gives it to you with love.”
Dubus’ beautifully phrased exploration of the “sacraments” contends that they are available to us if only we choose to “focus on the essence of what is occurring, rather than on its exterior; its difficulty or beauty, its demands or joy, peace or grief, passion or humor.” “This is not,” he writes, “a matter of courage or discipline or will: it is a receptive condition.”
I realize, as do you, that the more usual definition of “sacrament” refers to a Christian rite (e.g., baptism or the Eucharist) ordained by Christ and that it is a means of divine grace and a symbol of a spiritual reality ““ ritual or material elements transmit a sacrament.
During this season of thanksgiving, I’m applying Dubus’ broader definition, and I’m directing my perseverance gene toward being receptive to the many sacraments that fill my daily life.
No one would ever want a sandwich I prepared, no matter how lovingly – unless, of course, elegantly slathered mayonnaise and white bread appeal – but I can, and do, lovingly and ritualistically, send carefully selected cards of encouragement, compassion and love; provide for the needs of the furry creatures in my care; prepare prompts and discussion topics to stretch my students and to encourage their critical thinking skills.
And, in the classroom, I observe my students creating and presenting sacraments to one another, to me and to themselves as they disagree with peers but state their points assertively yet civilly, listen respectfully and attentively to their international peers whose native language is not English and, slowly but surely, even the shyest, most reticent ones, contribute meaningfully to discussion.
You’ll find such examples in your life. Be receptive to them, and don’t tell me these are just behaviors, not sacraments. They are gifts and blessings not to be taken lightly or ignored.
Coleen Grissom is an english professor.