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My father, who was a true gentleman with old world manners, used to say that all things should be done with grace. I have thought about that over the years and it has always come to mind when I have been tempted to do something totally without grace or was suffering from guilt after the fact. He never really explained what he meant by it, expecting, I think, that I would ultimately achieve a definition of grace on my own and choose to live by it.
My father was the kind of man who held your coat and doors for you, gave you his arm if you were walking together, and rose from his seat in a restaurant when a lady joined the table. He even carried a hankerchief, which he would hand you if you needed it. This kind of behavior probably seems rather outdated and anachronistic to most people now. There are very few gentleman of my father's ilk around anymore. No one seems to see any value in it. But then, there are not many ladies of the kind to practice such manners on either. My son maintains that if he behaved like that with most of the girls he knows they would be angry with him and express their feelings regarding his behavior in words that would probably make a sailor blush. This fact rather saddens him since he would like to be able to behave in a courtly manner without fear of retribution.
I am undeniably a feminist, if the definition of that word is someone who cares deeply about the equality and treatment of women everywhere. What saddens me is that in the course of bringing society to a level of greater equanimity we have managed to lose our manners and restraint in all kinds of behavior, and I can't help feeling that we might have thrown the baby out with the bath water. It isn't that any woman needs a man to hold a door for her or help her with her coat, but it is a lovely courtesy when it happens. Good manners of any kind are, well, good. Personally, I hold doors for anyone of any age or gender and I appreciate it when someone does the same for me. Spontaneous courtesy is a lovely thing.
The other night I went into a convenience store and saw that a young woman who was a clerk was sitting on a stool behind the counter, crying. One of her coworkers stood beside her awkwardly patting her on the back and looking helpless while she wept. I am a motherly type by nature so I went to her and asked her what was wrong and if I could help her. I could see that she was quite emotionally distressed and I'll admit that I immediately assumed that she had some problem with a guy. In my experience, it would be the norm. It turned out that she did have a problem with a guy who had hurt her terribly, but not at all as I expected. It would seem that a very famous person had walked into the store not 5 minutes before I had. This person, who is internationally famous, undoubtedly likes his privacy as we all do, but the reality is that if any of us happen to fall into international fame, we probably should be accepting of the fact that people will admire us and sometimes feel compelled to express that admiration. If you cannot accept this, it might be a good idea to stay under the radar more. I suspect that fame is rather like a drug and just as difficult to keep under control. The high is probably great, but the side effects might be pretty wretched. Nonetheless, if you are greatly admired and have had a profound effect on people, almost to the point of worship, such as this young lady had, you should feel good about that and behave with some grace, not give them a death stare of dislike, turn and walk away, and make them cry, which is what evidently had happened here. I cannot lie, I was appalled.
I have had the great good fortune to have had the opportunity to have a powerful positive influence upon the lives of a few people in my time and when they have been moved to express their gratitude, love, and admiration as a result, it has sometimes been embarrassing, but also profoundly moving. I have always considered being able to touch the life of another human being in a powerful and positive manner a gift, and that how you do that and how you accept their appreciation is a matter demanding extreme grace. There was no grace in what had happened to that young woman. It was poorly done and entirely without either empathy or compassion. Her heart, which had been full of gratitude, was now broken. She was not intrusive or rude. She didn't whip out her camera phone for a photo. She may have been guilty of not exercising the appropriate celebrity worship empathy, but her motives were pure and honest.
My father was right. All things can be done with grace, and when we practice it, we rise above the less attractive aspects of ourselves as human beings. When we are kind and courteous we elevate ourselves above the rather self-centered, instinctively unpleasant, and even venal characteristics that have been with us since we rose from the primordial ooze that spawned us. The more fully that we live in grace, the closer we may come to the divine.
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