Eighth graders at my former middle school were asked to memorize Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” in English class. To be honest, I wondered why. Why was this poem required instead of Frost’s popular, oft-quoted “The Road Not Taken”? However, I didn’t create the syllabus, so I held my question and helped my students learn the sixteen-line poem.
“Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.”
Tonight I’m at the hospital, sitting beside the bed on which my 86-year-old mother rests. This feels like an appropriate setting for writing my last essay of 2020. I’ve heard this year described as a “dumpster fire,” and at times it has certainly felt like it. Unexpected, terrifying, out of control, fill-in-the-blank.
As the machines surrounding us beep with rhythmic certainty, my nervous system is kept on high alert. Deep breath in, deep breath out, I focus attention on my mother’s rising and falling chest and my own heart, which feels positioned on the starting block of a race. I’m just waiting for the starter pistol to sound. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
“My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.”
Recently I listened to a podcast with Alan Falding, author of An Unhurried Life, and was captivated when Falding described living at the pace of grace, which is living right now.
This present moment is where grace is found.
Not in reminiscing about the uncertainty and unrest of past nine months; not in worrying about the next few days spent caring for my ailing mother; not in wondering about what the new year might hold.
It’s found right here, right now. In this moment, there is grace.
What if I give myself to this idea as I sit beside this hospital bed? Deep breath in, deep breath out.
What if I give myself to this idea as I mark the arrival of the new year? Deep breath in, deep breath out.
What if I give myself to this idea when I wake on January 1? “This present moment is where grace is found.” Deep breath in, deep breath out.
“He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.”
As I step out of the hospital after making sure my mom is comfortable for the night, I pause in the vacant roundabout to look up at the inky sky. Tonight promises the appearance of the Christmas star, as the planets Jupiter and Saturn align for the first time in 800 years. I scan the heavens, breathing in the fresh, cold December air—deep breath in, deep breath out. There is no star that I can see, but there is grace.
There is grace in standing outside on this chilly winter night, exhausted from a very long day.
There is grace in searching a dark sky, hoping for a glimpse of once-in-a-lifetime celestial spectacle.
There is grace in the silence surrounding me, the steam from my hot breath meeting the cold air, and the sense of being seen, loved, and held in this moment by God.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Like the sojourner traveling home from his long journey, I pause to look around in wonder, to notice the goodness, beauty, and peace of this moment, and to rest for a bit before moving on.
Deep breath in, deep breath out.
There is grace.
Susan Tucker is a lifelong lover of story, and with curiosity and openness, she often explores in her writing the tension that life holds. A former English teacher, Susan loves meaningful use of language, especially when used to stir the soul and whet one’s appetite for more truth, goodness, and beauty. Susan and Tim, her husband of 26 years, are adapting to an empty nest since both of their sons are now away attending college.nbsp