My whole life, I don’t think I had given this question too much thought. Despite being raised and confirmed Catholic, it was one of those things that just goes in one ear and comes out the other. Grace is to be graceful, elegant, smooth, whatever. That’s about as much as I knew or cared.
Being the lapsed Catholic that I am, it wasn’t until a couple decades later where I met my wife that I encountered this concept first hand, and no, it wasn’t with her. It was with her dad.
Sam was a pretty silly character. With a stern look, he could easily and calmly intimidate you. And then turn right around and tell a dirty joke in front of everyone at the dinner table. He did just that the first time I met him! So what did I do? The only thing a person in my situation could, I told one right back. He was the deacon at his church, attended mass every Sunday, was a religious and maybe more importantly, spiritual man. With my wife growing up, they volunteered to help the homeless on Christmas or Thanksgiving. It was important to help out those that are more unfortunate, to care for them when no one else would.
It was shortly after this time that Sam and his wife, Beth, were getting a new boat. It was also around this time that Sam was diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer. I was still getting to know Sam, but this idea of Grace is something that would follow him around more and more over the next two years.
Brain cancer is probably the worst illness to have a loved one go through. It changes them, what they remember, how they talk, and listen, their mood and temperament. They could seem perfectly normal on the outside, yet almost be a different person on the inside. It’s as if you very slowly lose them before they actually go. Through this period, Sam impressed upon me a new meaning of the word strength, and as many of his loved ones were oft to mention, grace. He handled the whole thing with grace. I heard him described this way from many different people in various independent situations. This wasn’t some coincidence.
Does this mean he handled the whole thing with “simple elegance”? Maybe it did to some, but not me, it didn’t feel right. Now, looking in a dictionary, finally, I saw this other meaning of grace:
The unmerited favor of God.
It goes on from there with more definitions, all seemingly unrelated and related at the same time. It seems to me this word is a bit of a catch-all for all things religious. It can be used in almost any context in church mass and still fit. I suppose I could wrangle one of those definitions in to fit Sam, after all, he was a devout man and had a love for God and others. But it was when I was reading a book that I came across a quote that really gave me pause, and immediately, I mean immediately made me think of Sam.
The book is A River Runs Through It, by Norman MacLean. It’s a fantastic movie, but it’s an even better book, and beautifully written. It is autobiographical, and MacLean’s father is a minister, as well as an expert fly fisherman. He teaches his boys everything they need to know, about fishing or life otherwise, through fishing. It is jammed pack with eloquent passages relating fishing to life, or God, in a way that just wouldn’t make it into the church or the Bible. He writes:
My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him all good things — trout as well as eternal salvation — come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.
This instantly struck me, this was Sam. No he did not trout fish, but he sailed. He loved to sail, had wanted to his whole life, and he was good at it. To be on the water, under the sun, sails full, this is where I think he really felt spiritual, where he felt God. This is where I got to know him, in the Springs and Summers, where he continued to sail year after year after his diagnosis.
He and his wife went sailing when they were first married. But it proved too costly and they sold the little boat they had. Once they started a family though, every year, and just about every weekend when the weather was good, was spent sailing. This was no short drive into town either. This was a 6 hour drive each way to get to the boat.
Sam and Beth worked so hard to complete this dream of theirs. It most certainly did not come easy. But over time it did come, and because of it, they have some of their most important “good things” that happened in their life because of sailing, and it came by grace.
It was only fitting that his last boat was named Grace, after all. He knew before I did. We read this quote at Sam’s funeral, and it still holds true today as it did then.