That’s how the light gets in.” –Leonard Cohen
Summer in Minneapolis has been a delightful discovery. I have rarely experienced such a seemingly endless stream of near-perfect days. People here make the most of the summer – everyone says so – and I witnessed a constant stream of festivals and fairs which suggest the truth of that assertion. It seems like everyone maximizes their time outdoors, at the lakes or cafe tables at restaurants and coffeeshops.
But I have also noticed an odd quirk in my fellow Minneapolitans: they are very quick to declare summer’s end.
“It’s the Uptown Art Fair! That means summer is ending.” (Stated assertively on August 4, as we sweated profusely in the hot sun.)
“Summer’s over, the State Fair begins this week.” (On a bike ride, again while sweating profusely.)
“Its officially fall.” (On a friend’s facebook page, photo of a few red leaves surrounded by vibrant green foliage attached as proof.)
While everyone around me has been declaring the end of summer, I’ve been clinging to it, hoping to make it last as long as possible. This may be a function of 17 years in residence life on a small campus – each of those years declaring summer to be “officially” over as of August 1. Now that my summer isn’t unnaturally truncated by professional responsibilities, I want to stretch out and luxuriate in it until the last possible moment.
That’s what was going through my mind as I set out on a walk in my neighborhood Monday afternoon, another gorgeous summer day in progress. And that’s when I noticed it. A familiar scent, a noticeable rustle underfoot: if it smells like fall and you’re crunching on dead leaves as you walk, it just may be that autumn is arriving.
As I walked and mused on the almost gleeful willingness of my Minnesota peeps to declare fall’s arrival, along with my stubborn refusal to accept what my own senses were picking up, I had one of those moments of mental clarity that generally happen unexpectedly and forcefully, like a microburst in your brain followed by a brief, shining rainbow. I’ll attempt to share the gist of it, however, I’m afraid it’s doomed to be a pale representation:Thoughts of my sister and my friend, Jason, both fighting/living with frightening health conditions popped into my head. These were followed rapidly by scenes from the wedding I attended on Saturday, where two friends who had been partners for thirty years were finally able to legally marry with their families and close friends in a circle of joyfully tearful support around them. I thought of friends sending their children off (or back) to college, of friends who are dealing with loss and of friends who are preparing to welcome new lives into their families. I was overwhelmed by emotion as this rapid-fire slideshow of people and their hopes, dreams, challenges, griefs and joys flickered through my mind. And instead of seeing, as I often have, the randomness of fate in these harsh and beautiful life events I instead saw the hand of Grace. We don’t get what we deserve in life, we get what we’re given as pure Gift. We don’t always appreciate it – because sometimes it hurts and sometimes it feels unbearably hard. There are people whose whole lives are misery, and that is Grace as much as my happiness in the beauty of a long summer.
After this storm of firing synapses passed through my conscious brain, I continued my walk in a state of heightened sense-awareness. And when I returned to my apartment, I typed the following question into Google: “What is grace?” I don’t think I’ve ever felt so ready to understand this concept, nor so sure that I had been getting it slightly wrong in the past, when I thought of grace as simply the arrival of nice things I didn’t necessarily deserve in my life. My search turned up this definition, which amazes me:“Grace is a divine vulgarity that stands caution on its head. It refuses to play it safe and lay it up. Grace is recklessly generous, uncomfortably promiscuous. It doesn’t use sticks, carrots, or time cards. It doesn’t keep score…It refuses to be controlled by our innate sense of fairness, reciprocity, and evenhandedness. It defies logic. It has nothing to do with earning, merit, or deservedness. It is opposed to what is owed. It doesn’t expect a return on investments. It is a liberating contradiction between what we deserve and what we get. Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.” — TULLIAN TCHIVIDJIAN
The fact that Tchividjian is Billy Graham’s grandson was not lost on me. Nor was the fact that I found this explanation on a site called “The Gospel Coalition”. I could worry about what quoting this particular person or site is saying about my theological, ontological, or philosophical leanings, but I won’t because this is what occurred to me whole-cloth on my walk, even though I could not have strung these words together myself.
I now understand something my Minneapolitan friends had already grasped: I can love summer without mourning its passage into autumn. Or, more to the point, I can rejoice in summer while also welcoming the arrival of fall. It is all gift and grace – as long as I remember to see it that way. Life isn’t about getting what we deserve, it is about finding the gift in what we’ve been given. And sometimes it is important to realize that you (and by “you” I actually mean “I”) have been disproportionately, outrageously, undeservedly gifted with abundance – and to be humbled with gratitude for that bounty.