Lessons in Grace: Part I

I have this ideal mode of behaviour in my head where I act kind and respectful to everybody I meet. Where I never say the wrong thing, or act petulantly when I have to do something I don’t want to do. Where I am never impatient, never short, never give in to anger.

As you can imagine, I have a long way to go.

Here in Victoria however, I do have some role models. People that deal with potentially unpleasant situations with a grace I am not sure I will ever attain. (If grace is a vitamin, I most definitely have a deficiency).

Jim Gordaneer rocking the Moss St. Paint-in!

First and foremost, there is my father-in-law, renowned painter Jim Gordaneer. This man has taught me a lot about how to be in the world. 
A few of his mantras include:

Stand poised in the face of the unknown. Which, translated into real English, means don’t enter a Wake with a party hat and noisemakers. Take a minute to gauge the situation; don’t run in without assessing the mood.

This seems obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of people who do not follow this.

Always treat your family with the courtesy and politeness you reserve for strangers. Don’t take your loved ones for granted. Be as thoughtful to them as you would be to a new acquaintance. Also not easy to follow when your loved ones leave their socks all over the house and don’t scrape the food off the plates before they put them in the sink.

Still, a good one to try to remember.

Jim is not all talk though. The man practices what he preaches. Last year he had another stroke. He was in the Hospital for months; there were times we were not sure he was going to live. His health has never been good- he was in a coma for 6 weeks in the 90s. He has had several joint replacements. Before his stroke he was having trouble getting around and now he is mostly confined to a wheel chair.

There are two aspects of his illness, or how he has dealt with his illness, that speak to the kind of person I would like to be if ever I grow up (still waiting).

First of all, his loss of independence. Although he has regained much in that way, he still cannot walk. He has a caretaker that comes twice a day-in the morning and right before bed, and the rest of the time a family member needs to be in the house to make sure he is okay.

Now, here is a man who has tried to tread lightly in this world. To not be a burden to anyone. The fact that he requires so much from his family, not to mention the undignified need to have strangers bathe you and take care of all those private functions, weighs on him. Yet he still manages to be as polite and kind to everyone who comes to him. He chats up his careworkers. Tries very hard to not cause any more trouble for the family. He never complains.

Secondly, is the miraculous reason this man is still alive: art. Sounds high falutin’, I know, but it is the honest truth of the matter. He remembers being in the hospital and staring death in the face. It would have been so easy to let go. But he strongly felt he was not done yet. He still had some questions to ask through his paintings. This is what kept him alive. Got him back home. And in fact, the moment J wheeled him to his easel, where the blank canvas he had primed before his stroke was still waiting for him, he began to paint as if he had never left.

More lessons in Grace from this situation are from Jeremy’s sister and mother and the rest of the family. When Jim was getting better and the Hospital wanted to kick him out, all the doctors were strongly recommending they put him in a home. They said it would be too much burden for the family. That he would not thrive. Luckily for Jim, his family knows him. 

His doctor (who has the grace to love this man and give housecalls) supported the family’s decision. They figured out how to arrange their house so his studio and his bedroom are all on one floor. J went to Victoria to install an elevator so he could go outside. His sister committed herself to being his primary caregiver. 

Yes, it has been hard and yes it has not always been graceful. But to know the man so well, and to give up a lot of your own freedom in order to have Jim be in a place where he can paint and thus get better, trumps all of the frustration and irritation. Their grace is well rewarded with Jim’s gratitude, not to mention the beautiful paintings he has produced since he has been back home.

Miria, Jim’s wife, has had the grace to never treat him like an invalid, but always as her husband. I heard that she’d go to the Hospital everyday after work and lay on the bed beside him. They would talk the way they did in their bed at home. She still does this now, in the hospital bed set up for Jim on the main floor. Mimi has the grace to always see the man she married and not an invalid. I love her fiercely for that.

As I write this, I notice there are many types of grace. Perhaps they do not all resemble the ideal I have for myself above (I think of Katherine Hepburn when I think of Grace and imagine myself growing old like her despite the obvious fact that I am neither tall, nor skinny, nor blonde. Though I could rock an elegant pant suit if I tried…) but grace is present all around. If I look hard enough, I find it in the most peculiar places.
Lessons in Grace: Part two to come. Nope. Not finished yet. but this post is getting mighty unwieldy and I must stop it…

3 thoughts on “Lessons in Grace: Part I

  1. This is such an important post for me, Lena. Grace is a word I love because it does not always mean gentleness. In fact, it means a kind of limber toughness at times. A kind of astringency.
    Your father in-law sounds like he has Grace abounding.

  2. Thank you, Lina.
    This post leaves me very thoughtful, perhaps because I've never thought of grace as a goal. Perhaps I should.

  3. Thanks Lina,
    I have too say that after spending some time with Jim this summer I came back with te sence that he is the definition of grace. Jim brought peace to me. I feel very fortunate to have had that time with him.
    Thanks that was a good piece.

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