I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.
Come on in, doll. We were just visiting with author, writer and producer Mary Haft who was telling us about a tête-à-tête she had recently with Pulitzer Prize winning writer Sarah Kaufman about her new book, The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life. Guided by the muse of Cary Grant who Sarah says epitomizes grace – which she defines as being “at ease with the world” – The Art of Grace serves up everything from the secrets of gracious hosts to heart-catching moments of physical grace. As a member of The Salonniere 100, Mary knows a thing or two about grace, so let’s listen in as she shares her thoughts about Sarah’s timely and inspiring new tome.
Thanksgiving Grace by Mary Haft
Into this moment in which the world takes pause, a collective breath for all humanity, Thanksgiving falls at just the right time. For this is a moment to reach out, to embrace our family, to welcome our friends. To take the time to connect with people who mean the most to us.
Holidays conjure the idea of grace. That ephemeral concept that encompasses so much – and yet carries intangible properties – is the subject explored in Pulitzer Prize winning writer Sarah Kaufman’s new book, The Art of Grace. What her research and analysis make clear is that grace is the connective thread through which so much of our human experience is calibrated. Examined. Understood and lived. Looking through the lenses of physicality, spirituality, and science, the concept of grace is understood to be at the core of what it is to be human. True grace is the creation of that element that fosters, encourages, and eases our connection to each other. For, in the end, that is what matters most. We are wired to connect with each other, and grace is the thread that pulls that human connectivity a little tighter.
Kaufman writes, “I’ll go as far as to say that once grace enters the room, our cold, hard, tottering world becomes a better place in which to live.” In conversation with Sarah, I comment that the application of the principles in her book are timeless. She explains, “It’s a whole other application, though part of the same thing: the essential message of tolerance and that everybody matters. It’s what we give in this life that is what’s going to be remembered.” She is quick to say that this is not her original thought. This idea goes back to an ancient Egyptian text written 4,500 years ago, in which a father wrote these words to his son: “Kindness is a man’s memorial”. Says Sarah, “It’s why we need grace now.”
Mary Haft (center) with fellow PEN/Faulkner board member and writer Dolen Perkins-Valdez and her husband David Valdez sharing stories with Marlon James (right), this year’s winner of the Man Booker Prize for Literature. Photo credit: Daniel Swartz
“You have to turn your bucket up,” Sarah compels. “Compassion and love is raining down. But you have to do something to accept that. Grace is up to us to enact. We can do that in simple ways, helping somebody who needs help, smiling at a passing stranger. It was enlightening to discover this core idea of the importance of compassion. Even ideas that are divine qualities: compassion and love. And we can do the same. “
Entering a holiday stretch that for many can be a fraught time, what advice would Sarah offer? “Slow down and just relish the holidays. Try to enjoy being together. What matters is love. Focus on what and who is important to you and let that be the uniting element that smooths over all the other insignificant stuff.” With a pause, she adds, “Grace is a form of love. It helps to bring about ease if you just focus on that important, essential quality of love.”
Sarah Kaufman earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for her work as The Washington Post’s dance critic. Photo credit: Tony Powell
Sarah will be celebrating Thanksgiving at a table layered with love; a complicated mix of family that comes together in all their permutations, round her great-grandmother’s table that holds a lifetime of stories.
Our life here is but a moment. We should grab every opportunity—and use this Thanksgiving to, as Sarah reminds us: “Raise a glass, as Lionel Barrymore did in the movie Grand Hotel, ‘to our magnificent, brief, dangerous life—and the courage to live it!'”
Author’s Note: In addition to being a published author, writer and producer at Haft Productions, LLC, Mary Haft is Vice President of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and Co-Founder of the Nantucket Book Festival.
Welcome photo: Betta St. John, Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in Dream Wife (1953)
Welcome quote: Harvey (1950)