I used to participate in an old fashioned tea party group with a bunch of women who were about twenty years older than me. It was about as stuffy as anything could be, but that was part of the fun. It was a pet project of one of the ladies; everything about her was very proper.
Once, as we prepared tables for one of the teas at her house, another lady tipped over a flower vase. She was mortified at spilling water all over the linen table cloth, and we used what we had to clean it up, but there were no replacements and people were about to arrive.
The very proper lady didn’t miss a beat. She floated over to the table and began to clear it as she kept right on talking about whatever she was talking about to whomever she was talking to before the spill. She even included the person who spilled the vase in the conversation. She helped dab up the spill, removed the tablecloth, flapped it out, blotted at it a couple of times and then returned to setting the table.
The very proper lady never even reacted with an “oh my." There was no screeching that everything was ruined, no swearing, no panic, no exclamations about not having time for this, no waving of arms in the air, no slamming things down, no name calling, no continuing on with nervous behavior. Not even a reassurance of it being okay. Because everything was okay, she didn’t have to call attention to it.
To tell you the truth, all of us spectators were expecting a high falutin drama, and we all had to recognize there wasn’t going to be a show. I distinctly remember thinking, if this is being an elitist, then I want to be one. I started wondering if only the wanna bes freaked out.
The person who spilled the vase was okay, if a bit flustered, but she didn’t have a chance to show it. She didn’t even have a chance to apologize because the very proper lady never took a break from what she was doing. When she finally discovered she wasn’t going to be chastised, but instead was included in the conversation, the culprit decided all must be well and continued on with the flapping and dabbing as they undressed and redressed the table.
If anyone noticed the wet tablecloth during the tea, she didn't bring it up for discussion. No one mentioned anything while cleaning up after the event. No one tried to be witty or felt it was their duty to give her a hard time, and no one whispered anything behind anyone’s back. As far as I know, I’m the first person to ever bring it up. The spill became a part of preparations as much as setting a fork on the table. It was awesome!
This incident encouraged me to observe, learn and rethink things. My normal instinct would've been to jump in to help this woman feel better and set things right, but had I done that, I would have mucked it up and never seen the proper lady's demonstration of grace. While preventive maintenance is an important tool to keep things running smoothly, what we really need to teach is to be experts in recovery, and that starts with grace.
I thought I was leaning back since I was stepping out of the way, but instead, I noticed for the first time that it felt like I was leaning in. No matter if I am the employee or the boss, or if I stay home or am in business for myself, no matter if I volunteer or if I am with friends or family, sometimes I can fix things by letting them play out. From this I was able to slow down that incessant chatter in my mind that always told me to stay on top of everything and get it all done, and eventually, I was able to quit smoking.
My current theory is that grace from outside of ourselves is the norm. It’s the day we expect to have without incident. Usually when things go perfectly, we have been graced with a perfect day. For all the other days, I have learned that I can care without demonstrating worry and no matter where I am, I have to create the place where I want to be no matter what interruptions try to disgrace my good day.