“Grace is like grits. You don’t ask for it, it just comes.”
One of my favorite Norbisms. You can image that the man who began a speech like that had some interesting things to say. At the age of eighteen, when I had my entrance interview with Dr. Schedler, I wasn’t sure I was ready to hear them. Interviews often included at least two applicants, and mine was no exception. As I listened to the hyperactive mother sitting a few chairs away question her spiral-haired daughter as to whether she had, indeed, sent her narrative comparison of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as her writing sample, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. At my high school, and don’t get me wrong, I loved it, ‘Homer’ didn’t get brought up much unless conversation had turned to baseball. No one else in my graduating class of thirty-three had seen the merit of applying to the Honor’s College program, so I felt that I, who had sent in a ramble about taking my driver’s test as my writing sample, was truly going it alone on a trip with a questionable destination.
“You can write.” Norb said. Whoa, he was talking me. Hyperactive mother of curly-head had a comment on the tip of her tongue before she realized this. I could write? He got that out of three paragraphs outlining my fear of being licensed to drive a two-ton death trap? (I wasn’t too keen on the freedom of the open road in those days.) I didn’t believe him, yet, but I was intrigued.
So what did I do? Well, I overcame some fears and I joined up. Over the next few years I didn’t get published or start a great American novel, but I did write. I wrote journals, presentations, and lectures. I wrote in my sketchbook, I wrote artist statements, and I wrote critics of other people’s works and my own. I even wrote a couple of scathing emails to an ex-boyfriend that I personally felt had some literary merit. But most importantly, I joined the conversation. I wrote around, through, and over my opinions until I reached my conclusion, which, as often as not, changed the next day. I was not an extrovert by any means, but my confidence slowly grew. I started with ideas that were black and white, but learned to see grey. I found the difference between what is the truth and what is True. I learned that assumptions must be challenged and just how quickly arguments can turn down a slippery slope. I never found all the answers, but I learned the power of asking the right questions.
I don’t deny that at times I’d rather have had the black and white of multiple choice tests rather than the muddy grey my journals, papers, and thoughts often became. However, I learned that you just don’t get those moments of clarity and, hallelujah, color, with prefab answers. Those moments of clear sight often seem few and far between. They come on unexpectedly, and I’ve learned enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
And, so, for the random pamplet found in the cluttered counselor’s office, I am thankful. For the surprising man in the bowtie and the sneakers who told me I could write, I am thankful. Grace. You don’t ask for it, it just comes.