Several weeks ago, on one of the first sun-kissed, no coat, kind of days in the NYC spring, my youngest son and I were headed out on a combined trip to take the dog to the park and pick my oldest up from baseball practice. It was one of those days where you walk around without a care in the world, sun warming your soul and a summery breeze dancing lightly on your cheeks. My son was excited to pedal along on his orange two wheeler, out for his first ride of the season, and my dog was spastic with anticipation as we turned the corner, heading in the direction of the park that meant freedom to roam and friends to play fetch.
While waiting for the signal to cross at the end of the long intersection leading to the park entrance, we chatted and talked about what he wanted for dinner that night. He was lobbying hard to “order in” and eat on the roof because “It’s such a beautiful day, Mom”. As the light changed, we made our way out of the concrete jungle and ever closer to the oasis of newly green grass and budding trees, dotted with branches covered in pink and white blossoms.
I watched my son, pedaling just ahead of me, and smiled at the ear to ear grin I could feel on his face, despite only having a view of the back of his red helmet. I was taking a snapshot of the moment in my mind and feeling grateful for all the beauty that surrounded me when I was jolted out of my reverie by a flash of yellow in my line of sight. There was a taxi coming up to the red light at a speed I knew meant it wouldn’t be stopping. My mind turned to geometry and physics and angles and “if a car is traveling at x speed, how many feet will it travel before stopping when the brake is applied”. In milliseconds, I knew it was going to turn into the intersection, directly into my son. Frozen, I screamed “STOOOOOPPPPP” at the taxi, along with a chorus of bystanders staring out at us from the edge of the park. The taxi never stopped, but my son, thinking I was screaming at him, turned his wheel to the left and toppled over onto the asphalt as the taxi’s front end grazed the back tire of his now fallen bike.
When I reached my son, he had already bounced up, and was staring at the two men who had chased down the taxi and forced the driver out of the vehicle. Dear God, what just happened? Dear God, what is happening now? My head was spinning. My son was safe, but now the driver was in danger. One of the men was cursing the driver, “You fucking idiot. You could have killed someone. I’m going to kill you before you have a chance to do it to someone else. That’s someone’s fucking child. You didn’t even look. You didn’t even stop. You’re scum. You guys are all scum.”
While the man stood there screaming in his face, grabbing and pushing him, the taxi driver just looked at me and my son, fear in his eyes. It wasn’t the fear of a man who was about to get beaten. It was the fear of a man who almost took the life of another. The fear of a man who saw the grave mistake he almost made. So I ran to where they were standing and put my hand on the arm of the angry man, the man who wanted to inflict street justice, and I begged him, “Please don’t do this. Please. The situation is ugly enough. Just stop.” Then I turned to the taxi driver. He looked at me, his dark eyes rimmed with tears and said, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” “I know you are,” I replied. “I forgive you. Please just go. Please be careful.”
When the angry man finally dropped his grip and allowed the taxi driver to leave we walked back to the curb where my son stood waiting with his bike surrounded by helpful strangers. “Thank you for sticking up for us,” I said. “I would have beat him up, you know,” he replied. “I know. Thank you for stopping.”
As the crowd of onlookers slowly disbursed and my son and I continued on the path toward the dog park, the tears finally came. Tears of HOLY SHIT, I WAS JUST GIVEN A GIFT. Tears of GOD IS GOOD. Tears of THANK YOU angels for protecting my sweet son. I felt wrapped in a soft snuggly baby blanket of grace. It was euphoric, the love I felt in that moment. Yet, as we continued walking and my mind began processing again, the warm fuzzy feelings diminished into thoughts and questions and confusion.
Why was my child spared when just a few weeks before, just a few blocks away, a nine year old boy was killed while crossing the street with his father? Why was grace handed out to me and my child and seemingly withheld from that broken family?
My tears of love and joy and gratitude became tears of frustration and loss. Nothing made sense.
Six weeks later it still doesn’t make sense. I’ve written this post over and over, hoping to come up with an answer to all those why’s, thinking if I struggled with the Rubik’s Cube long enough I could sort out the mess.
And I think that is what trips me up the most on my faith journey. The belief that it’s my puzzle to solve. Because I am just a piece. An infinitesimal piece of a glorious, heartbreaking, mind boggling, exhilarating puzzle. Faith is accepting that I will never solve the puzzle. Faith is accepting and trusting in the role my piece was designed to play in the puzzle. Most importantly, faith is trusting that God’s grace is present and real, even in the moments when it can’t be felt.
Because grace isn’t always in the aversion of a crisis. It isn’t always the prevention of pain or loss. Grace lives just as profoundly in ordinary moments. It is found in small gifts that help you heal from pain and loss. It is found in the compassion of a stranger, in the unwavering support of a lifelong friend, in the ability to ask for and receive forgiveness, even if only from yourself. Grace is alive in the strength you find to pick up the pieces and move on.
Grace is a gift that is always there to be received. With praise and thanksgiving I celebrate God’s grace in every moment, beautiful and ugly, and my heart sings with the knowledge that I can live that gratitude by not simply being a receiver of grace, but also a giver.