Remembering graciousness

Leading Australian journalist and broadcaster, Caroline Jones remarks in her autobiographical study, An Authentic Life, “I have learnt most of the important things I know about life not from textbooks, but from gracious people.”

A wonderful story is told of the Australian runner, John Landy, later a Governor of Victoria. In the Australian Mile Championship, Landy was racing to break the world record on March 11, 1956. Another competitor, Ron Clarke, tripped and fell directly in front of him.  Landy swerved and leapt, but his spiked running  shoes came down on Clarke’s outstretched arm.  Landy stopped, checked than Clarke was alright, and apologised to him.  Then, with Clarke on his feet and urging him on, he began to chase the field of runners with a lap and a half to go. At the bell lap he was flying.  A crowd of 22,000 people rose to their feet to cheer his win.

What John Landy showed in this moment is that graciousness is expressed in action; but it is also a quality of instinctive  respect, kindness and concern for the individual in front of us.  Graciousness recognises  that people are always more important than things, even if that thing might be something we have devoted our life to achieving. Graciousness is greatness of spirit.

Graciousness in great people inspires us.  We hear the story of St.Mary of the Cross McKillop and respond  with awe to her gentle courage in the face of slander and public humiliation. Or we listen to Nelson Mandela   and his quiet determination to seek reconciliation rather than retribution for the suffering that apartheid imposed on coloured people in South Africa; setting his own wrongs aside to build a united future for the people of his nation. 

But graciousness is  also found in the most ordinary of circumstances.  Caroline Jones offers a list of qualities that gracious people seem to share.  She notes lack of pretension, openness, kindness, consideration of others, a sense of humour, especially the capacity to laugh gently at oneself, wisdom, gentleness, and serenity.  
When I consider the people I call gracious, I know that they would all first laugh that  they had made the list; then be delighted; then, to a person, they would tell me that it was I who was gracious for considering them! So on my list of qualities of graciousness, I would include humility, and loving acceptance.

The best thing about all gracious people is their capacity to listen, and to be present in the moment to whoever they are with.  They are often very busy – but they always have a smile, and a welcome, and warmth in their eyes and voice that seems to be just for you.

When we meet a gracious person, we are always enlarged by the experience. Gracious people have a way of making you feel  you have been recognised at your best.  You walk away with a lighter step; your heart feels soothed; your spirits lift; you yourself feel able to be gracious to others you meet.

Sometimes, when we pray, we come as a tangle of problems, and are far indeed from the selves we dream of being. Yet simply sitting as we are with the Lord, allowing ourselves to be with Him for a while, is often enough. Maybe nothing in our circumstances changes.  But His graciousness changes us, and how we see ourselves, and how we can be.  All we have to do is turn up.

By Margaret-Mary Flynn
Dicocesan Year of Grace co-ordinator

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