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Grit vs. Grace

a blog by Suzanne Rico, June 18, 2012

Last week, my mother was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. This news has turned my limbs liquid, legs traveling on auto-pilot from room to room, where I pick up an abandoned toy or stare at photos of happier times as if from underwater. When I speak, my voice is edged with fear. And with the picture of her particular disease becoming uglier each day, I feel like I am scrabbling around in a dark hole, looking for the light.

Feeling the need to do something, I wrote to a doctor friend of mine and asked him to help identify the best specialists in the country for my mother’s type of cancer. Having lost his own mother to breast cancer at the age of 64, he promised to help.

“I read something about your mother awhile ago,” he wrote (I write about my mother frequently in my personal blog, Walking Papers). “Clearly she has a unique attribute I would call 'grit.' And given that, she clearly has chance.”

Grit. Definitions include a positive passion and perseverance to reach one’s goals, coupled with a powerful motivation; indomitable spirit; firmness of character. Grit is what I mined constantly when I was in the throes of infertility — maintaining determination and forward momentum despite repeated failure and loss. My mom has already used her vast resource of grit to beat cancer twice before — breast and colon — and now, she must prepare for a third down and dirty battle.

I sent the email from my physician friend to my mother, wanting her to know that I was circling the wagons like a girly John Wayne. She was thrilled a stranger would agree to help, but her reply surprised me.

“I'm open to any positive energy coming in, and I feel the grit,” she wrote. “But I am also feeling the grace of living in the light. Grit has taken me a loooong way, so now maybe grace is a welcome juxtaposition.”

Grace, like grit, has many meanings. “Unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration” is one, but I don’t think this is what my mom is talking about. I think she’s talking about a psychological state of balance and peace, without hard edges or anger or ranting against what is. I tried hard for this state of grace during my infertility journey, but I never quite got there. That my mom can find it now, when her life is on the line, feels a little bit miraculous.

"If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world,” my mother emailed me on the day she got her diagnosis, “I would plant an apple tree today." This quote from Martin Luther is important. Because no matter what challenge life throws at us — cancer, infertility, divorce, unemployment — we should never forget that each day is an amazing gift.

Follow Suzanne Rico on Twitter @suzannerico, Pinterest (Suzanne Rico), — or friend her on Facebook!

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