Who doesn’t love the name Grace? It was bestowed at birth on the incomparable Grace Kelly. It rings out in the moving English hymn that everyone, amazingly, seems to know. It carries a sense of ease—indeed, its first definition in the American Heritage Dictionary is “seemingly effortless beauty or charm.” A secondary meaning is “a virtue or gift coming from God,” rendering grace divine as well. Grace derives from the Latin gratia—“favor, thanks”—and the Sanskrit grnati (“he praises”). Therefore the very name Grace cobbles up splendid emotions and big shoes to fill.
Grace is the name of Jordan’s protagonist in her debut novel, Forged in Grace. The label conjures both origin and destiny for the sweet-natured Grace Jensen. She is empathetic in the extreme, not only graced by her name but also saddled with it, as her extreme empathy sets her about her incredibly demanding life’s work.
Grace’s gifts were forged in a demon fire from which she emerged chastened and changed. The fire (and you must read the novel to get the details) leaves her scarred and highly sensitized to the pain of anyone she touches. She’s not only wounded but blessed with the power to heal. How fitting that this lovely character with the virtuous name chooses to use her talent for the good of others. How gracious and graceful that she turns toward the silver lining of her horrific scarring. How much we root for her, and in our rooting learn empathy for those around her, people we might otherwise judge, dismiss, or shun.
Both author and character seem born to their gifts of understanding, and they wear them well. As Jordan has said in an Indie-Visible interview about Forged in Grace, the extreme empathy she shares with Grace leads both of them to identify so strongly with the pain of others that they “sometimes can’t figure out where their own pain begins/ends.” Jordan admits that extreme empathizers have trouble, too, letting go their own struggles as they involve themselves in the struggles of others. “Unless we learn new strategies,” she says, “we’re screwed.”
Grace, and her author, are people whose lives are large enough to bring love to the lives of others. There’s empathy not just in the protagonist and her creator but also in every page of the book. Grace could have been screwed, as Jordan has said, but she finds love and her livelihood rooting for others. We in turn root for both Grace and Jordan for the healing they can bring our world.
Forged in Grace reminds me that fire is monumentally healing and cleansing. It anneals. It transforms. It kills or cleanses and often does both. Grace, the character, embodies everything good about fire. She has to journey to reach her place of understanding, but who among us does not? I won’t say this story has a happy ending—I won’t reveal that much. But I will say that Grace lives up to her name, and, as readers, our empathy for her goes on and on.
Rebecca Lawton is an author and naturalist whose essays, poems, and stories have been published in Orion, Sierra, The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Shenandoah, Standing Wave, THEMA, the acorn, More, and other magazines. She has received the Ellen Meloy Fund Award for Desert Writers, the Redwood Writers Award for Poetry, and other honors. She has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes—in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
Becca was among the first women whitewater guides on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon and on other runs around the West. Her essay collection on rivers and the guiding culture, Reading Water: Lessons from the River (Capital), was a San Francisco ChronicleBestseller and ForeWord Nature Book of the Year finalist.
Currently she is collaborating with Geoff Fricker, photographer, on a book about the Sacramento River and California water projects for Heyday Books. Sacrament will be released in late 2013. She is also writing a short story collection, What I Never Told You: Stories on Water.