Monday, May 14, 2007

When Whales Make Waves: A Meditation on Grace

Jenell Paris teaches English at Bethel College. You might appreciate a recent entry (May 5), from her blog, about demonstrating grace to others. I know I did.

I was swimming laps the other day, hatefully. An Asian woman, much smaller than me, did slow breaststrokes in the lane to my right. Along with everyone else in the lockerroom, I had overheard her the day before shouting over her hairdryer, "I never struggle with weight. Never! I just try to stay toned." But that wasn't what I hated. A size-regular white man swam crawl strokes in the lane to my left. Every single move he made, especially approaches and turns, created waves. I think they were about four feet high, and probably surfable.

Swimming is precious alone time. Oliver and Wesley go to the health club child center, and Max stays at home with dad. I have between 100-180 minutes between nursings, and driving takes about 12 minutes, car seat strapping 3 minutes, child center check-in 4 minutes, etcetera, and the pool gets about 20 turns of the clock. The other day, I wasted most of them plotting the death of the man to my left. Given that I weigh less than him, could I drown him? Would I have time to wait by his car, quickly eliminate him, and still get home in time to nurse my newborn? Why did God create such a monster (him, not me)?

I was graceless, and am again today with respect to a person much more important to me than the wave-maker. Grace requires understanding - the man is just swimming, for heaven's sake, and wasn't I already wet? And might my postpartum flapping belly have been creating waves toward the small woman to my right? People do what they do for good reasons, and understanding those reasons yields compassion.

Which is more real - my belief in grace, or my practice of gracelessness? The truth is that I'm really tired. I haven't slept more than 3 hours at a time since April 6. Most days are fine, but the difficult ones leave me without strength to extend a friendly hand toward any other human. Perhaps I'm not a bad person, or quickly becoming a bad person - I'm just temporarily underrested. It's inevitable that, when swimming with others, you'll get splashed. And besides, I was already wet. Same goes for living in the world with people. They'll splash you, snap at you, offer insults barely disguised as compliments, mistreat your children and your pets...and those are your family members who love you the most. But they have their reasons, and when I'm not so tired, I can find some compassion by understanding the wounds that motivate the bullshit. And besides, I do all of those things, too.

But today I am so tired, so there. Grace, for me, means taking my husband's help, minimizing my workload (just feed the baby and then lie down!), and going to bed as soon as possible. Perhaps just accepting that much today will help me give some tomorrow.


  1. Thanks, Arnold, for referring us to excellent women bloggers. How do you find them? Find any single women? Most of your bloggers are married with kids, aren't they?

    Jenna is talking about a regular sized man swimming next to her lane, not an obese one. So, what do you mean about swimming with whales?

    I swim twice a week with people of all shapes and fitness levels. Those 100 pound women with their fierce flip turns cause more turbulence than a 400 lb woman I know moving slowly through the water. It's about speed and power.

  2. The four-foot surfable waves made me think of whales. Creative license.