There are many words in the language of the humans, and I still stumble over some of them, the way I sometimes stumble over my feet–or Holder’s–when I dance. The words are sounds, but one sound, one word, can have so many meanings. One word like this is ‘grace.’ It can mean a skill and smoothness of movement, like the beauty in Chelries’ motions when she dances, or the smooth flight of a sleek spacecraft through the Sea of Stars. It can mean a certain way of dealing with people, with manners, consideration and compassion, as my mother and father tried to teach me when I was growing up. Holder says that a blessing to the First Ones–or whatever term one uses–said over a meal is sometimes called ‘saying grace.’
My friend Jason Treader–who is also one of the students in my Circle–taught me another meaning of the word, one evening by the campfire at the housing quarters we all shared on Holdfast, some time now in the past. Holder and I had come up from bathing in the stream, and I saw the glow of the fire and heard Jason’s voice, singing a song I did not recognize. I sat, listening to him in silence, until he was done.
“What is that song called?” I asked him.
“It’s called ‘Amazing Grace.’ It’s one I learned in my church. It’s about God’s love, and how it changes people.”
Jason talks about his God–who, as far as I can tell, is like the First Ones, but with one face instead of many–quite a lot. I did not quite understand the word ‘god’ when Holder first said it to me a long time ago, and I still do not, fully–but I understand what is meant by the word, if not the word itself. It made me smile, when he said that. Jason tries to be close to his God, the way I try to be close to the First Ones. Holder does, just as much–but he rarely talks about it. Instead, he expresses that closeness merely through the way he acts–although it will no doubt embarrass him if he reads that I have said so.
“What does love have to do with grace?” I asked Jason, having seen nothing in any dictionary of Galactic Standard that linked the two ideas.
“Everything,” Jason said, and I know I must have looked confused, because he laughed. Not a mean laugh, of course–but the kind of laughter that comes from joy. In this case, the joy of knowing you are about to teach someone something new. “Annah, one of the things ‘grace’ means is ‘the freely given love and forgiveness of God.’ I guess it could mean anybody’s freely given love and forgiveness, but I guess you know most people–at least most of us humans–don’t really give love freely without expecting something.”
“Hmm.” I thought about it. He was right–most people I knew did not. And it is still mostly the case. My parents love me without any expectations; Holder loves me in the same way–as does Kale, and I must be honest and say so. Chelries and Liara do as well–and Lilliane. All the others I can think of–it is not that their love is unappreciated, but it is contained by boundaries, as water is held by a vessel so that we may drink it.
How wonderful is a love that knows no boundaries. The First Ones’ love is like this–and it is the model for all other love, at least I believe so. What a blessing to have even a few in our lives who love this way–and what a greater blessing if the day one day comes when all love is of this kind.
“I see what you mean, friend Jason,” I said at last. He smiled.
Holder, sitting beside me, smiled at me and squeezed my hand. He had been silent the whole time, but I knew the things I had said were what he would have said. We are like that, a lot. I leaned up to his face and kissed him.
By then, a crowd of others had begun to join us around the fire–the rest of our Circle, both those from my world, and those from among the people of Holdfast. “I know that song,” Catherine Castle, a young woman who is quickly becoming one of my best students of Shaping, said then. Her mate–boyfriend, I think, is the human term–whose name is Peter Holloway, said that he did too.
“Sing it again, Elder Annah,” Peter said.
I am not usually embarrassed to sing in public, but I have to confess, I tried to refuse with a smile–not because I do not like the song, or its sentiment. But the song and its meaning were, at that point, a thing newly learned, and I wanted to be quiet, and see if the First Ones had anything more to tell me about this mystery called grace.
In the end, I found the answer in the voices that rose to meet mine, as I sang the song that Jason had only just taught me.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…”