When prompted with the word “graceful” a flurry of images come to mind: a ballerina dancing in a ballet, a bird soaring through the sky, a twig floating down a stream. These things all conjure the word “graceful” to mind. But “graceful” has an underlying connotation implying the subject is naturally this way. Rarely does one think of acquiring grace, and how that process juxtaposes the very meaning of the word.
A ballerina isn’t born graceful. He or she is born like any other human, screaming and crying, flailing with rigid movements as gravity and air become a new obstacle never before tackled. Later on, the baby will learn to walk, not gracefully, but through many falls and tumbles, until a stiff method of moving on two legs is acquired. Later, walking becomes easy, and an interest in something more pulls at the heart. Ballet dancing doesn’t come easily either. Falls and broken bones, cuts and bandaged toes, sore bodies and aching muscles – are these graceful? I saw a ballerina fall on stage during a performance in Russia, the thud when she hit the stage reminded me how graceful and delicate her previous movements had been. It made me think of the years of learning, the relentless effort to build the muscles, the numerous rehearsals she must have persisted through to get to this stage and impress the audience with her grace. This is the point at which I realized she truly embodied the word “grace”. But a different “grace” than the definition I had known before.
A bird is much the same. Not because it moves elegantly like a ballerina in the sky, but because of the process it goes through to get there. A bird is born in a nest, helpless and unable to fly. Eventually, the bird must make the enormous leap of faith out of the nest and into the sky- or to the death of the ground below if it fails. Once it overcomes this enormous hurdle no man has ever had to tackle, it has to continue surviving. It learns to use its wings to beat the air, to glide, to soar. It must soar through strong winds, dip and dive to evade predators, and develop the skills to catch food – all from the air. It is a very ignorant human reaction to think that birds fly gracefully- and the common after thought- how wonderful it would be to fly. The struggle for survival, the mastery of the wind and the air, and the leap of faith it took to get to that spot in the sky with the perfect air current to glide upon – this is what makes a bird gliding in the air “graceful”.
A twig, though inanimate, is no different. This twig fell from a tree during a large gust of wind into the stream upon which it now floats. The stream will not remain calm and slow forever – eventually it will become a raging river, or a cascading waterfall – and (hopefully) at some point the ocean. Thinking of these tumultuous parts of the sticks journey, that no human could survive – is what makes the stick in its current lackadaisical state “graceful”.
The appreciation for what the subject has been through, and will go through, to reach this point of “gracefulness” is the only time one can truly appreciate and correctly use the word “graceful”.