We have just shared thoughts with David Runcorn on our public role and personal pilgrimage and something he spoke about really resonated with me. He talked about how falling back on your smile, your charms, your human resources can be very life-draining. This is not really about operating out of grace. It is more about ego. He amused us with the idea of a person going to bed and relaxing their face for the first time in preparation for sleep, conscious of aching jaws from smiling all day long. I remember those aching jaws from my teaching days.
l guess with those with whom we can be really real, our faces do not ache, nor do our bodies, we hold a steady posture, in that it is not contorted, not eager or strained. David talked about how our bodies, when they are touched, ooze our stories and flow with our wounds and our joys.
l am quite a reader of body language, sometimes to an over-sensitive extent and I read my own body language too, taking care not to cross legs folded in a direction away from the person I am sitting next to or cross my arms in front of me when I am being spoken to, if l do these things l become quickly conscious that l am on my guard.
l am also aware of times when I rely on something less than grace in my unsure moments. l have been nurtured in a household that has always been big on manners, sometimes to an alarming extent, think Basil Fawlty and his terrible British apology, almost for his very existence. If it has not quite been that, 'pleases' and 'thank yous' come easily to me but I am wondering, if at times, they are escaping my mouth by rote and are a learned pattern of behaviour and one that I am now conscious l ha ve become unconscious about.
On my way through the check-in at JFK, l was last in my party's crowd as we presented documentation of our address to the final check-in clerk. Eager not to be separated from my group, l relied on my British accent, big smile and confident 'thank you' to hurry the process along, or at least I realise this with hindsight. I really did not give the man a chance to read my address from the card at all. I was severely reprimanded.
'Don't you say that to me, young lady, you get right back here and do not walk away until I dismiss you.'
'What?- thank you, but I only said thank you.'
'Yes and don't you ever say that again until I say that you can go and what's in your bag?'
l was then interrogated on its contents, told never to do what I had done again and dismissed. l had not blushed so violently since l went through a strange hormone related blushing thing when pregnant about nine years ago. l literally felt like my face went purple as l instructed my brain to tell my voice to speak calmly and slowly and act on this man's instructions and satisfy his curiousity about my personal possessions.
l was holding up the queue who were all staring at me and l was becoming separated from the party ahead, as l rejoined this group of people whom l did not know yet, l continued to instruct my brain to keep my voice steady and my eyes to hold all possible liquid within for a while.
As l unpacked the incident, l came to understand that l was being humbled for an ego and disposition that had assumed all would go well with me, a pleasant, polite young lady with a winsome smile and cute British accent. None of this had got me the results that I had anticipated. I had resulted to ego where l should have remembered grace. Grace would have had me give this man more time, grace would have had me look him in the eye rather than breeze past, grace would have perhaps delivered conversation about my whereabouts rather than process. There might have been expectancy rather than ungrateful expectation on my part. There might have been none of these things but grace might have spared me my blushes and him my arrogance.
The last place I expected to learn keen lessons in the first leg of the Indaba process was at the airport but that one continues to stay with me. l was then introduced to more profound examples of humility and grace which nevertheless led me to ruminate still on this God who will convict us gently and sometimes with violent blushes in the simplest of everyday encounters with the very many people that he has crafted in his image.