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Words I Just Finished Reading

The Kitchen House
The Atomic Weight of Love
We're All Damaged
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Wishful Drinking
News of the World
The Forgotten Garden
Out of My Mind
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love
My Not So Perfect Life
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters
Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency
The Lost Wife
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Anna and the French Kiss
Little Bee

Julie's favorite books »


Grit and Grace

Recently one of these adorable children (pictured above) had a meltdown.  Nothing extreme: merely a minor, passing disaster, an afternoon thunderstorm that ended as abruptly as it began.  But in the aftermath – the dreaded drive home, when juvenile offenders throughout time have been suddenly subjected to the full-force exasperation of a parent in a small, enclosed space – I told him this: “The only thing I want to hear from you is that you’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.” 

Oh, he didn’t care for that whatsoever.  He squirmed.  He dodged and made excuses, and said that he wasn’t sure he could do that.  I was unrelenting: you can, and you will.  The word of the day: grit. 

The following day he had another meltdown, but it was less intense, and less insane.  We talked about giving ourselves space for change and how discipline and accountability can serve to move us forward.  We talked about getting back on the horse when you’re sure you’re going the right direction.  You can do it, bud.  You’ll get there.  The word of the day: grace.

One of the most beautiful, unexpected gifts of being a parent is the privilege of growing along with your children.  So when I was later thinking through this exchange with my boy, it was not surprising to discover that this child of mine reminds me of someone.  Spoiler alert: it’s me.  I’m someone who has meltdowns, someone who resists accountability, someone who desires change and self-control and all good things to be easy.  I am someone who’s trying to answer the question, in all these complicated, freshly turned moments: grit or grace? 

If I’m to be a wise woman (and oh, how I long for wisdom), then I must ask the question, over and over: is this a moment for grace, or for grit?  Is this the time to dig in, to grow, to be brave and say yes to something new?  Is this the moment to apply a bit of rigor?  Should I hold those reasons up to the light to see if they’re actually excuses?  Or is this a moment for grace?  Should I embrace the quiet moment, or say no to the commitment, or take a nap?  Is this a moment to grant myself forgiveness for being wildly human?  Grace or grit?  And is applying grit sometimes the gracious thing? 

All of this has been swirling while we’ve celebrated Eli’s birthday this week.  There’s a joyful melancholy I feel each year: he’s only eight; he’s already eight.  And I chose to start reading Being Mortal on Tuesday, so I’ve been following Mando around the house since then, demanding that he pay attention to me because soon we’ll be decrepit AND THEN WE’LL BE DEAD.  I often wonder how much time he devotes each day to being thankful for the opportunity to live with me.  (It’s probably a lot.)

But I’m always reading the right book at the right time, it seems.  And Being Mortal deals with the business of aging in our Western culture, but it’s also an attentive exploration of what it means to live a meaningful life, even when our independence wanes.  The author mentions the work of Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen, who has done multiple studies on the emotional experiences of subjects over years of their lives.  Her research has led her to the conclusion that emotional satisfaction in life is related to perspective: the knowledge that your time on earth is finite.  Additionally, and not surprisingly, the book posits that as people age, they have more experiences that result in a mix of positive and negative emotions. 

It was that passage that resonated.  There’s a sharp poignancy to life that only increases we get older, as we exercise the privilege of witnessing our children and spouses and friends and parents get older.  It’s the bitter and the sweet, mixed together, each amplifying the other. 

I was applying grit and grace as separate prescriptions with opposing aims, but perhaps grit and grace are ingredients of the same balm, used to heal us from the many superficial wounds of everyday life.  Perhaps they’re balancing forces, allowing us to embrace change without fear and endure setbacks without collapse.  Perhaps they’re gifts, and perhaps we need a bit of both to manage our terminal, wonderful, miraculous human condition.

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