I’ve been thinking a lot about grace and how transformative it can be. I define grace as a special state of being in which I am given an unearned, unexpected gift, something that I don’t deserve, and haven’t asked for, that comes to me freely and with a love that feels benevolent and intentional. Upon reflection, I see that it’s grace that has strengthened me and moved my life forward from the time I was old enough to notice the grace around me.

I was reminded of the power of grace in a recent news story about health care workers who are involved in the national vaccination efforts happening all over our country. I learned that the happiest place in medicine to be right now is where there is a vaccine to give, and the happiest medical workers are those administering the shots because the vaccines hold so much promise. Instead of the endless feelings of sorrow, frustration, and stress that they have been associated with in COVID care, those who give people vaccinations feel a deep sense of joy and fulfillment. Giving the vaccine has become its own reward. Bringing hope to others brings the vaccinators hope, too. In some locations, so many nurses have volunteered for vaccine duty that they cannot all be accommodated. What a wonderful problem to have and to solve!

The experience of grace during a time of terrible human tragedy, such as the global pandemic, gives us the chance to see what we have been blind to, and what we may have ignored, or taken for granted, in order to find our best selves, to receive grace with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of the gift. I have read about families who lost a parent, or a child and chose to turn their grief into doing good in their community in honor of their loved one. They help tackle injustice, help overcome poverty and hunger, and contribute to solving problems that plague their communities in the name of someone they loved as a way to give meaningful purpose to their loss.. Stories like that help spread joy, and give hope and inspiration to all of us.

Grace can come in a more diminutive form of simple everyday acts of kindness and compassion called “gracelets” that contribute to the well-being of others in subtle and understated ways. Walking our dog in a community park, offering a friendly greeting to fellow walkers, acknowledges others and lends a sense of belonging, community and safety that can be comforting. Helping a neighbor shovel their driveway costs little but time and energy, yet lightens the work and feels reassuring. Giving a word of genuine praise can turn someone’s day from ordinary into memorable. It never ceases to amaze me how such small acts can be transformative.

Grace comes spontaneously to us, and it’s our choice how to receive it, and how to honor it. Grace is a path that requires an open mind, an open heart, and a sense of optimism, rather than cynicism. I think that grace comes from a deep well of universal goodness that holds the promise that anything is possible, and everything can change and be transformed. Grace has purpose and it is one of our best teachers in the experience of being fully human.