The day my mother found out that she was pregnant again, she knew her third child (a second daughter) would be named Grace. There were no questions posed or options listed. The baby in her womb had only one name, for my mother knew the baby described only one thing: grace.
Mom seemed confident that her baby would inhabit the virtue. Grace would define her own name in a sense. I being only 10 years old at the time of my little sister’s birth on September 30, 2001, didn’t have a full grasp on what my mother meant by this. I knew what I had learned in church about grace being a virtue. To me, the word ‘grace’ fell into a category lumped with other words like kind, nice, gentle, or love. Grace became so much more than that. She brought a new spin on her name, while entirely fulfilling it. I’ve been struck now ten and a half years later, by how little I have appreciated the example and the challenge she provides in my life.
She was a quiet baby, born with a thick tuft of red hair existing only on the top of her head. Her face was small and round like a Cabbage Patch doll, her cheeks always rosy. She was always smiling and hardly cried. She was delayed, not walking until almost her second birthday. She took nearly six months to roll over, because she would hang her head all heavy when she tried. She seemed to prefer to lay in the peace of the position we placed her in. The doctors said it could be because of the accident.
On a night in March 2002, Grace fell. Our brother, Teddy, was a two-year old and a total handful. He was hyper and starving for attention. Our mother would have Grace in her bouncy seat on the floor. Grace would chew on her teething toy while she gently bobbed herself up and down. Up and down. Not disturbing the quiet one bit, until Teddy would burst into the room and run beaming, chaotic circles around her seat. Her eyes would gleam and dart along with his energy, while Teddy giggled and cooed at her. He would get so elated by her tiny little body, that he would kiss her roughly on the cheek (which caused her to emit a heart melting tingle of laughter) and give her a love pinch on the arm or opposite cheek. She would begin to cry as the pain seared the nerves pinched tightly between his forefinger and thumb. After awhile, she began to protest, but she grew so used to the pain that there were no more tears. My mother tried her best to keep Teddy away from Grace while she cooked dinner and did the laundry, but it was nearly impossible. He was pulled by an invisible cord, unable to escape her magnetism of cuteness. He was obsessed and compulsing. So she set Grace on the island at the center of our kitchen. Mom was overstimulated. She was only trying to protect her baby, but Grace had gotten stronger. Her tiny legs pumped away in her bouncy seat and moved herself from the center of the counter to the edge in no more than a few minutes. Mom had her back turned when she heard the loud thud. I looked up from my book and screamed with my mother in unison.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” Was all Mom could manage.
“Mom! Mom! What happened?!” I was shrieking and felt all the blood drain from my face.
Then we heard the wail. The gurgle of a baby’s scream shocking that moment of silence between the thud on the hardwood floor and our voices. Although we had hoped the chair was empty, the wail brought reality crushing in. Mom flipped the seat over and screamed for my stepfather, “Ted! Ted! Call 911! Her head is already swelling! Oh my God…..”
The rest of the night was a blur. There were x-rays, CAT scans, and an MRI that followed in the next few months. She had some frontal bleeding and a broken wrist, but she was a miracle. She shouldn’t have learned to talk or walk or anything. Her cognitive functioning should have been shot. But she was left with a head too large for her body, delayed learning, odd social skills, and a pink glittery cast. ‘She’s so lucky,’ was the catch phrase of the year.
I forget sometimes. I forget what my sister has went through, the delays and the fact that she doesn’t always understand why she needs to not say this or that. Teddy was found to have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by the time her was for, which accounted for the constant pinching and the continuous field of his own force around her. He’s always watching, always bothering, always consuming her. She loves him, but he has never allowed her any peace. She is a compulsion, like a baby animal he can control. I forget the anger she most likely has, but that she hides within her grace. But I forget this! Conveniently I forget. I get frustrated when I think she isn’t listening to me. I’ll end up screaming in anger at her while storming into the room where she watches television, entranced by the colorful images. She will jump at the abrupt influx of my voice and try to make up for her zoned out state of mind, “What?! What? I’m coming!” The strain in her voice punctures my heart when I realize she isn’t wearing her hearing aids and can’t understand my anger.
We call Grace “the animal whisperer”. She has a way with animals that she herself doesn’t realize. We see it though. They flock to her. The dogs in our neighborhood will stop outside of our house if Grace is outside. They wait for her to pet them and coo at them. There is a cinnamon colored labradoodle, Lucy, who stands on her hind legs and sort of bounces in place until Grace notices her and comes running to greet her. Animals sense Grace’s gentle nature, her unbiased outlook on life. Grace comes on soft and soothing, entirely undistracted. She approaches life without the driving punch of sarcasm and thirst for life that I hold. Grace gets mistaken for lazy or incapable of handling the few responsibilities of a ten-year old’s life. I think it’s just that Grace lives in a dream world full of happy thoughts and idealism.
Grace knows how to value herself enough to escape into her own internal world, away from the pain and negativity of reality. Away from the pain of divorce and the pain of her brother’s control and anger. The pain of my own instability. She tells herself jokes to keep her happy, while the rest of the world functions on frowns and stress. I used to make fun of Grace when she would laugh to herself. Sometimes she bursts out laughing so hard, that her giggles turn into peels of shrill laughter turning her entire face crimson and sending tears down her cheeks. She laughs harder when we look at her funny or I tell her she’s acting loony. “I just laugh randomly sometimes,” she’ll reason.
She doesn’t always recognize social cues. Her teachers are worried, her therapists, and our family. “Grace needs to learn what she can’t say to other girls. They don’t understand that she is simply being honest and not wishing to offend.” Grace’s honesty towards me is nothing short of flattering. So why then do I believe she wishes to offend me when she tells me, “You look different today”. Rather than asking what she meant, I read the smug look on her face as an insult and explode with anger. She never gets angry back. She looks frightened out of her bubble and responds with, “I only meant that you look healthier and your skin is pretty today,” as she left the room. We had been at the beach all week and my skin had cleared up. That was all she meant, but I forget. I forget her innocence, her seven-year old mindset stuck in a ten-year old’s body.
She’s always busying herself with making little crafts and gifts for people, just to show them how much she loves them or to cheer them up. Her mane of blonde curls spill halfway down her back. When she smiles and the light catches her hair just right, she nearly has a translucent halo over her head. Mom always says, “Graces wings are showing.” And maybe I’m apprehensive about that. Maybe I am too narcissistic to accept someone who truly is a peacemaker and innocent. Rather than learning from her, I’ve wasted her first ten years ignoring or feeling burdened by her. So I’ve spent the last months or so humbling myself to her. Trying to understand the ins and outs of her dreamy facade and nurturing nature. I let her be fascinated by the things of my life that I find mundane. I smile instead of object her tendency to mimic the things I do. I’ve tried to dial back the damage I’ve done, like when I will hear her respond to mom with the exact same articulation and defiance which I have often exposed her to. I try to set better examples. I laughed when she walked into the bedroom we shared on vacation with a yellow headband and her hair in a bun. It was identical to my own bedtime hairstyle at that moment. I let it flatter me and I let it inspire me to seek grace and gentleness through her. I want to know how to soften my heart and to love things without pride and fear of vulnerability.
My sister’s love reminds me of the love I’ve been struggling to find in God. She takes the high road only. She won’t respond with vicious outbursts and she forgets any evil done to her. She lets things go, rather than harboring anger. She never holds me accountable, but continues waiting for me to find grace from her presence.
And I will. At any cost, I swear I will.