I am going to say I know a person who is amazing. I don’t have to be specific here. I know a few like this. They are the ones wedged in that place called saudade. They belong to the world of long ago travels and once potent friendships. All of these are “it was great at the time” moments….they were “shelf life” moments.
I’ve been spared the angst of having many such moments, though not always. I would not want that; no one would. These are the amazing moments in everyone’s life. Chelsea Batten recounted one in a recent essay. Her amazing moment pointed to a relational giftedness that was mythic but never allowed to mature to become real. That is the thing about myths….they are always very true, but rarely very real.
Batten uses the language of connection for this. She writes of being amazed and amazing, that place where one is very connected and yet not connected at all. I read her essay and think of the Lucinda William’s song “A Kiss Like Your Kiss.” Here Williams ponders the perfect year, the one that can never be replicated. It is a common enough theme. All of us “will always have Paris” or that youthful summer at the beach. We need a few of these, but they involve an intensity we cannot live in forever and as such they will always be amazing but not forever real.
Last year I read Gilead. At the close of this Maryanne Robinson novel an aging minister thinks of what he would do with a reality that is amazing in the way his simple wife and son are not. His decision is he would desert it to walk a thousand miles to get back to two very real people. Batten closes her essay thinking on what I would call the “regret” of her “fling” where she knew the adventure of amazement, but knew even more potently the sacrifice that it entailed. (I have linked to Batten’s essay at the close of this post. It is a good read, but if you do not read it, let me just qualify her regret rests in the sacrifice rather than the adventure.)
Dag Hammarskjold once said “he who wills adventure will experience it – according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed – according to the measure of his purity of heart.” The connection of a relationship always involves adventure and sacrifice. The adventures look different, but the sacrifices can most often be reduced to two….walk away and let something become myth always frozen in “amazing” intensity and perplexity or stay on and have it become real though less amazing. Both can be the right answer depending on the scenario, but the danger exists that our choice of sacrifice may be wrong. Most will have to live with a few of those.
Batten doesn’t tell us whether her sacrifice was the right one. She does not know. She does give us some good advice though, that is keep a person real from moment one which means you will have to also give up a lot the amazing part very quickly as well. I would add use Hammarskjold’s advice and approach it with a purity of heart as well because in doing this you are making the “grace” of another’s presence into that which is holy, on a particular level at least, and holiness and purity are always tightly intertwined to inform the messy world of grace….though I do not mean this in a strictly “moral” way.
Relationally grace is a funny word. It is always an abstract quality related to finding favor from another. In and of itself it is not a means of balanced accounting to earn favor or to match the favor one receives, but it does assume an active principle of reciprocity to merit the favor. If what is being reciprocated in a relationship must always be amazing then we will either flee from relationships before they can be anything other than this or become disappointed when what is amazing is not apparent. This is a problem, because no human being is always amazing. If they were then we would crack under the intensity of the weight of the thing.
There is a reason Zoroastrian legend speaks of God reducing the love of the first parents for their children a hundredfold lest they devour them from sheer affection just as there is a reason that the untenable idea of courtly love was called madness. Though we may not think of the loss of it as fortunate, it is a good thing for most when another person loses their myth and becomes real. When this happens, they become less amazing, but it is because the grace of that relationship is no longer cheap but had with the very real costliness of the likes of allowing another to be vulnerable and less than the perfect.
That is what is so amazing about grace….we are loved in spite of ourselves. It is true of the grace of human relationship, but it is also true because we were first loved. God loves us in spite of our foibles and need for forgiveness. We would do well to love others in the same way. That is what makes the amazing grace of the short lived perfect other different from the truly amazing grace of loving and being loved by another imperfect creature which always involves the costly sacrifice of either walking away or being together, a sacrifice that needs to be made from the place of a pure heart regardless of the form it takes.
I return to the opening thought I had in this post. It is obvious I, like most, have walked away or failed to ask another to stay. Were these the right choice? Perhaps….you can’t stay in that amazing place unless you become devoured by it, though perhaps it was not. Walking away may be the right decision, but unless one decides to stay the opportunity of the fullness of a relationship or its destruction cannot be realized and we fear both. The only thing we can do in our decision making is to follow Batten’s advice and see another person as real from the outset allowing the possibility for a person who is not always amazing to be seen in a grace that is always that way regardless of whether our relationships involve our staying or walking away.