O My Grace, I Have No Hiding Place

By John Thomas Tuft

I sat in a restaurant on Brodhead Road in Beaver County, PA, just down the street from the field where Tony Dorsett played his high school football. As I waited for my friend whose young wife, Maria, I had recently laid to rest in a sundrenched cemetery on a midsummer’s morning , my thoughts wandered. I remembered walking through a new classroom building during my senior year at the University of Pittsburgh. I rounded a corner and there was the star running back, future Pro Hall of Famer, himself.  And prancing around his strong legs was his toddler son, Anthony, Jr. I hesitated before deciding, why not? Approaching with some trepidation, I shyly asked, “Is that your boy?” He nodded. I pressed on. “Is he going to grow up to be like his dad?” A look of great sadness, trepidation, world-weariness spread across his face.  It was almost a whisper. “I don’t know. It’s not easy.”

O my grace, I have no hiding place.

My friend still hadn’t showed. My thoughts went back to the evening two months earlier, the occasion of Maria’s memorial service in a large church in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh.  The sanctuary is packed with about 500 people to remember this remarkable 33 year old woman; one of the most light-filled human beings I have ever met. The summer evening air is thick, cloying. I lean heavily on my cane, necessary after five back surgeries, one of which resulted in a septic infection in my spine. Another friend comes in, a fellow witness to the insanity of grace. He is maybe a half dozen years older, and suffering with the debilitating symptoms of a degenerative nerve disease. It’s painful even to watch him struggle to walk. We have to make it to the front together. I offer him my cane. He reluctantly accepts and we make our way to the front. One by one all 500 make their way up to us. We offer them all that we have: our brokenness and the healing touch of hope. Out the window I see the lightning bugs starting to rise through the dusk, winking at our foolishness.

O my grace, I have no hiding place.

My friend is beyond fashionably late.  In my mind’s eye, I’m in the hallway of UPMC, an epicenter of the world’s suffering and hope in Pittsburgh. I take a deep breath and enter Maria’s room. She has a shunt in her brain as they try experimental treatments for the tumor.  She is battered and beaten, but smiles at me, reaches for my hands. As the afternoon light swoons she whispers to me all her secrets; the bold ones about her dreams, and the dark ones about her marriage. “I’m going home,” she says with mustered strength, “and we’ll find someone who will marry him and raise the boys.” And she does. Not too much later, for two weeks, every evening I drive out past the wooded hills where USAir427 went down, across the county to the Ohio border.  To sit with family and friends, adding my pain to the swirl and sigh of angels’ wings.  I go in for one last moment with her. I swab her lips with glycerine, stroke her hair, thank her for revealing so much light to us. Afterward I make my way to the porch. In the distance the strobes of the airport guide wandering souls to safety.

O my grace, I have no hiding place.

My friend never shows. I wonder what he’s afraid he will see in me. I don’t know. It’s not easy.

O my grace…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.