, Gloucester, MA

March 7, 2013

Sticker brings grace to shop

Journal Pages
Susan S. Emerson

---- — Sometimes, it just happens.

On any given day, sometimes I see the words, sometimes I don’t. But I always know they are there.

Sometimes I observe a customer in my shop flipping through the CDs, trying to think of the name of a song but can’t. He drops his head back, scrunches up his nose, and closes his eyes for a few seconds, frozen in that familiar human stance that inexplicably lets us think more clearly, and when he opens his eyes, they’re aimed right above the door jamb.

He frowns at the bold white letters on a blue background, but after considering them for a couple seconds, murmurs, “Oh, I get it. Yeah.”

Yesterday, a woman riffled through the piano books, occasionally pantomiming her fingers across an imaginary keyboard in the air to assess the difficulty of the piece, when she paused, her gaze settling hypnotically upon the words on the wall. She smiled and said softly, “Oh, that’s lovely, isn’t it? It reminds me of a sermon I heard yesterday.”

The words are on a bumper sticker someone had given me years ago, at a time when I had desperately needed to believe them, and I embraced them then, clinging as tightly as a drowning person clings to a life raft. They read: “Grace Happens.”

Not being a “bumper sticker on your car” person, I climbed up on a stepladder, peeled off the back and smoothed it above the doorframe at my store. Better there, I thought, than on a car bumper anyway, where such a succinct message might be less likely to cause distraction to the operator of a moving vehicle.

Over the years the sticker has caught the attention of countless people, each applying its message to their own lives, their own circumstance, their own need. It has been a path to many conversations, which is for me the biggest perk in being a small-town shopkeeper for 35 years.

The first of eight (or of 17, if you count nuances within a given definition) meanings of the word “grace,” as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is: “Unmerited divine assistance given to man for his regeneration or sanctification.”

For people who believe in God (with a capital “G,”), Grace comes from God. But every bit as strongly felt is grace (lower case “g”), coming to those who acknowledge some other higher-than-self power. And still another grace simply finds people who have never heard the word grace at all.

An everyman’s loose interpretation of Grace and grace might be: “free stuff from someone or somewhere that keeps you above water — and it just happens.”

I see grace as a gift given not as a reward to the deserving, but rather, provided freely from the goodness of God or some other energy. Grace is sustenance to any person in need, even to the wretched in spirit who know nothing of how to ask for it.

The bumper sticker is right on: “Grace Happens.” It just does. It’s always out there, like air, still existing whether we call upon it or not. I see people’s eyes light up when they read the words and consider the possibility. And then, they smile.

I remember the nuns in parochial school rolling back their heads and laughing, “Well, that’s a saving grace!” when someone else might have attributed the same situation to a piece of dumb luck.

I really doubt the notion of dumb luck and coincidence. I know that there’s a plan out there, a plan that dispenses comfort, energy, and joy when needed, even when it’s not requested. I know that grace happens; I believe the message on that bumper sticker.

Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.