By Susanne Liebich
Grace is one of those words which is used liberally, and sounds beautiful, but what does it really mean? “To move gracefully” is to move like a ballerina, willowy and lithe, floating across the stage. Grace can also be used as a verb; “to grace someone with your presence” is to honor someone. And then of course, “to say grace” is the act of showing gratitude to our families, friends, God.
Recently, I have had experiences in working with my students which have provided me with a new use for the word: Be Grace. I believe that sometimes in life, we are blessed with small but profound occurrences which affect us deeply. Through working therapeutically with individuals, young and old, struggling with a variety of conditions such as severe burns, Parkinson’s, MS, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, or advanced age, I have experienced others “Be Grace”. The one thing these people all have in common is that physically, life can be a struggle. However, I have discovered that the heart and the spirit can and does persevere.
I have found grace in the most unlikely circumstances. A few months ago, I was teaching a group of seniors with Alzheimer’s. A man who was physically mobile but who had experienced severe memory loss had been attending a therapeutic dance class for well over a year, with little or no participation. I noticed he was able to walk independently, so one day, as I played a 1940’s torch song, I invited him to dance with me. Initially, he was a little fragile and unsure, but we danced a simple two step together for the entire song. Every week, I would invite him towards the end of class to dance with me. And every week, he enthusiastically participated. In fact not only did he participate, he eventually started leading me in a fox trot, complete with twirls, promenades and bows. We then started to have a conversation during our weekly dance. The last time I asked him to dance, he joyously jumped up from his seat. At the end, the residents applauded fervently. I told him, “they are clapping for you”. He said, “they are clapping for you”. I laughed and said, “they are clapping for both of us”. He responded, “I will dance with you anytime.” This was our last dance. Later that week, he passed away peacefully, and I discovered he had been in hospice for a few months. And yet, his spirit, his light and his “Grace” had showered on us those last couple of months.
I was working with a beautiful young patient who had been profoundly burned as a young child. I had worked off and on with him for over two years as he had overcome tremendous mobility challenges and trauma. He asked me to witness him while he danced. As I played a dramatic Prokofiev composition, I watched as he played an imaginary violin, his face animated with sorrow, passion, and joy; I watched him move his body with meaningful expression with harsh and gentle movement; I watched him sing with pain, anguish, power and love. There he was, alone and yet complete, filled with a confidence that let him open his body and his heart to the world. At that moment he was Grace.
These examples of Grace can also be described as connection- connection with humanity as well as connection with one’s own spirit. With this Grace, there is nothing to separate us; when we see it, we want to be surrounded by it, immersed in it. I see it often in my work, experience it in the glow of eyes, the touch of hands, the sound of voices singing, the synchronicity of movement. It’s precious, and yet we only need to look closely to understand and let ourselves Be Grace.