by Ali Berlow


Fae Kontje-Gibbs

She just did it right there over the turquoise Formica table piled high with burgers, fries, cokes and iced-tea. She said grace before eating lunch. Bowing her head, closing her eyes, and folding her hands into her lap, she spoke her prayer softly. The tenor of her voice shifted into that of a little girl. There was no warning that she was going to have this moment with God in the middle of the diner. And caught offguard, in mid-babble and mid-reach for the ketchup, I sat back, quieted. She began, “Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts…”

Me sitting there like I’d been struck by lightening, affected an uncomfortably tight posture with a straight back and tucked-in chin—my eyes darted nervously around the room, the food and her. I think I expected a hush to overcome the place or for someone to stop, stare, stand up, and point at us. But no one noticed. They all went about the business of ordering, chewing, talking, and settling their checks while I turned red.

The grace she said came out quickly—unforced and natural. Her prayer was definitely Christian but flowed in an adlib that included Buddhist proclivities and even a tan- gential reference to Charlotte’s Web. It was based in religion, grounded in spirituality—it was her truth and her faith. All of which made the moment sincere, thankful, and yet humble.

Before ending she raised her eyes to me, asking if I had anything to add. Off- balance, flustered, and feeling nostalgic for something lost, I’d become mute. I managed only to shake my head no and mouthed a rickety-dry amen alongside her “A-Men.”

Then she picked up the conversation as if nothing had happened. The food was still hot, but I looked at it differently. I slowed down.

That thoughtless urgency I’d had to stuff my face had been replaced with a little more consciousness. Awareness, a lot more appreciation. And I saw her in another way too.

To me, grace and prayers have been things that are said only at holiday meals, religious services, funerals. The words, like an old set of silver, seem like tarnished obligations evoked as auspicious ceremony, spoken by rote—more form than living gratitude.

Since that lunch I want grace. I like the moment, the meaning, that contemplation that slows me down from kitchen to table to plate to meal…to consider the blessings I’m given, what this nourishment means. I am grateful for food—saying grace reminds me of that. But I still sit there speechless across from my friend while she says her grace over our burgers and fries. One day I’ll jump in. My fear of what other people think is already eroding.

Given that I live in a world of political correctness, perhaps where irony is the new dogma, who knew that for me an act of insurrection would be a whisper—a quietly said blessing of thanks and gratitude for the nourishment and life I’ve been given?