It seemed to me I was walking into a tinny house. It was an old wooden cottage, crooked and barely standing, like the occupants within it.
Four young men sat in the lounge drinking cheap beer and smoking dope surrounded by squalid mess. There was a foul smell and an underlining unstated threat of violence in the air.
‘Kia ora, I’m here to see Annie,’ (name changed) I said.
It was 10.25am when she walked through the door into the lounge. Her clothes old, perhaps 10 years out of fashion, but still, she carried them well. Her shoulder length dark hair had not seen the contents of a shampoo bottle for many a shower, her grey hairs slowly starting to win the war against the dark. Once upon a time this woman would have been attractive, now, while not quite Hesperus-like, she appeared ethereally awkward and out of place.
She walked over and tried to smile. Picking up my hand she lead me to her bedroom.
Her bedroom dark and small, and in contrast to the lounge neat and tidy. It smelt similar, like any other middle aged woman’s room; of tea tree flecked with low key floral tones. While not welcoming it seemed a refuge compared to the human carnage next door. familiar.
‘We can talk here,’ she said.
I sat next her to on her bed.
As I sat next to her I noted immediately her breath smelt of alcohol and tobacco, that her remaining teeth were stained yellowy brown.
My son,’ she said, ‘my oldest son was killed in a car accident two days ago.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that Annie,’ I answered, then paused.
‘I am not safe here,’ she said, ‘my youngest son next door is so angry, I know he will get so high again today, so angry, he will come and give me a hiding.
‘Do you want me to call the police?’ I asked
‘No, I want to leave, leave now,’ she repeated adamantly.
We slipped out the back door and walked without turning our heads.
Over the next five hours while I arranged respite and refuge we talked.
Annie’s story hit me hard.
Physically, emotionally, sexually and verbally abused from a young girl Annie had endured a life of addiction and incarceration. Everyday and every year it seemed she was caught up in a repetitive cycle of violence and fear.
I had never met anyone like Annie before, her life was a life that most people only read about and never quite believed. Annie was a statistic not a real person.
But despite the awful pain she had suffered, what struck me the deepest was the simplest and most human of all emotions in a life filled with inhumanity. It was her horrendous grief in losing her oldest son, and her desire to protect her youngest son. She was many things, but above all she was a mother first and I am grateful that she had the grace to show me that.
smoothness and elegance of movement.“she moved through the water with effortless grace”2. courteous good will.“he had the good grace to apologize to her afterwards”verb
It might be my Catholic upbringing. It might be that my education was provided by the Society of Mary, but grace has always been so important to me. Of such import that long ago I adopted grace as a key part of my value set.
Its not just the onomatopoeic quality of the word grace, it’s not it’s simplistic construction of 2x consonants, 1 vowel, 2x consonants, nor its strength. It looks good on a page and it rolls off the tongue with as much depth and sophistication as smooth cocktail olive. Grace to me is so much more than it seems, so much more than just a word – it is a behaviour.