I tried to sort out what was happening to me, but with no success. My family and friends had become increasingly concerned.
“You’re not yourself.”
“If I’m not myself, then who are you talking to?”
I thought that might stump them. I was myself, only better. Why couldn’t anyone else understand? My mind was quicker, sharper than it had ever been. The sharpness had an edge, though. It was a steely blade that could wound others if I was not cautious. And I had thrown caution to the wind at the beginning of my ascent into mania. Throwing caution to the wind sounds fearless, but I was not. I had simply forgotten what caution was, and what it was good for.
Words had taken on a different aspect. Each one was a star in a constellation among an infinite number of constellations. Every word had layers of meaning. Some had more layers than others, and discovering the connections between them was crucial. Present was an important word. Even more so was the word grace.
One day I was having a conversation with my dental hygienist. Over the low buzzing sounds coming from the next room, we talked about vacation plans and what our kids were doing. My end of the conversation was limited, of course, by the equipment Regina had in my mouth. She was a devout Catholic who spoke casually about the rituals and beliefs of her church. I’d been raised as a Jew, and Catholicism had always been a mystery to me. I eyed the gleaming, sharp instruments lined up on the tray and thought of the Spanish Inquisition. Regina was telling me that, due to scheduling complications, her son’s confirmation had been delayed.
“But the good news is that he’ll have a few more months to remain in grace.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but I didn’t want to reveal my ignorance. What the hell did she mean by grace? Not to mention confirmation. Why did her son need to be confirmed—was his existence in question? As my mission to understand the meanings of words became increasingly urgent, I was determined to unravel this code.
I decided to read the Bible in its entirety to look for clues, beginning with the New Testament, since that was completely foreign to me. Maybe I should read the Old Testament, too. I had tried to read it in college, where I was studying comparative religion, but I was never able to get past all of the “begats” in Genesis. As I walked down the street from the dentist’s office I came across the Christian Science Reading Room. Although I had never considered going in before, I did not hesitate now. They must know the meaning of grace. I went in and had a long conversation with the woman inside about theology. At least, the conversation was long on my end. She mostly listened politely.
Eventually she said, “I’m sorry, but I really can’t help you with this. I’m only a volunteer.”
I had expected a more direct emissary of God.
At this point most of my conversations had become very long. People I met were usually eager participants until fatigue overtook them. Me, I was ready to talk all night. All Things Considered was no longer a radio show; it was my life.
Was the meaning of grace inside the Bible? The conversation with the Christian Science Reading Room lady had not revealed an answer.
Didn’t grace have to do with a way of moving, a certain bearing? You either had grace or you did not. Mary, apparently, was full of it.
I knew “Your Grace” was an honorific, although I was unsure if it referred to royalty or to the Pope.
In the San Francisco Chronicle, I read that the choreographer Joe Goode had created a new piece called “Grace,” to be performed at Grace Cathedral. That was, of course, a signal. And I was there. “There but for the grace of God go I.” Was God some sort of celestial ballerina? Clearly most of humanity was pretty klutzy.