Our Something Significant series is about ordinary men and women who have done extraordinary things in the world. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled into meeting Sarah Kaufman in a most unusual way. You see, these days, I buy nearly all my books right from my Kindle reader. I haven’t ‘shopped’ in a real bookstore for many years. One day this spring, I was stuck in a shopping mall as the three lovely ladies I live with were shopping. I spent my time in the bookstore. That’s where I found The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life. Once I returned home, I bought the book on my Kindle E-reader and dove in. I met Sarah as I started reading her incredible words, and I knew instantly that I had discovered another ordinary person doing extraordinary work in this world.
My philosophy on significance has two components: doing something you love and creating something of value to others. As you’re about to read, Sarah is on a mission to revive grace, one person at a time, and she loves it. Sarah’s life has been deeply impacted by grace ever since she was a young child. Yet as she observes our modern culture of hyper-speed in everyday life, communicating in 140 character sound bites, and technological isolation, she fears grace has been nearly exterminated from the face of the earth. She wrote her book to bring grace back, and it will definitely add value to the lives of all who read it.
At Happy Living, we celebrate Sarah’s work, as, of course, our own mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of the world, one person at a time. I am so excited about the impact her revival of grace can have on our world that I wrote about it in my recent post, Living with the Grace of a Stripper.
And so it is my great pleasure to present Sarah Kaufman.
Hi Sarah, tell us a little about yourself and how you got where you are today?
Hi Matt, thanks for inviting me into this terrific space. I’m an author and also the dance critic for the Washington Post. My writing life has unfolded as a gradual process, with a fair amount of doubts and stumbles, but I’m enormously grateful to be a writer. I’ve loved writing since before I could even do it – I was clacking away on my father’s typewriter at three or four years old. I was fascinated by words, and my parents encouraged me like crazy. When what I typed began to resemble actual English, I was henceforth known as “Sarah-Who’s-a-Writer.” I had barely started school. But I knew who I was.
Now, I was also a quiet kid, and pretty shy. I couldn’t do sports because I’d been born with a hole in my heart, and I was essentially benched until I had surgery. So I spent a lot of time alone, on the sidelines, watching. I longed for connection. So, when other kids approached me, and welcomed me into their circles? That was pure heaven. It was also the beginning of my understanding of grace. It sprang from that delicious feeling of rescue and acceptance, coming when I least expected it – just simple human warmth, appearing out of the blue. That’s something I’ve always valued very deeply.
As a teenager I studied ballet six days a week, and to my great joy, that obsession turned out to be a valuable journalistic specialty. The ballet studio that for years had been my refuge, my laboratory and my social life became the font of a career. It was also the springboard for further explorations of grace. THE ART OF GRACE is not a dance book, but it’s suffused with a dance sensibility: that the body, mind and emotions are inextricably linked, and that we crave a good partnership, on the street corner or in the coffee shop just as much as on the dance floor.
How has significance played a role in your journey?
When I write, I begin with the question “why”. Why am I weighing in on this issue, this performance, this theme? What do I have to contribute to it, and what can I give my readers that is unique to me, that comes from deep inside, and that might be of value to others?
Significance is a sorting mechanism. There are so many choices in life. So how do you pick your focus? I start with this basic desire: To write about something that catches my imagination, and which will shed light on our shared humanity. I aim for significance, yes; it infuses every article I write, and it is why I wrote my book. Having been profoundly moved by grace all my life – physical, social and spiritual grace – I wanted to celebrate it in a fun, comprehensive and meaningful way. There is so much beauty in life, so much everyday grace all around us. A stranger’s kindness; an athlete’s elegance, honed with attention and devotion; a welcoming smile. These are like small chips of love. The awareness of love – that’s what I want to share.
Was there a specific moment when you became aware of those things that are most significant to you?
This has happened gradually. I’ve had a growing desire to pass on what I know about writing, art and analysis from my 30-plus years of being a critic. And I’ve wanted to share what I’ve learned from the arts world about creativity, generosity and living life to the fullest. What else would I do with all that I’ve learned? It’s a great feeling to share it.
What obstacles have you faced in pursuit of significance?
Like many young people, I really had to work at self-confidence. As a young journalist, I was plunging into a profession that felt quite foreign. Strong curiosity and a lot of inner pep talks pulled me through. For example, early in my career I found myself covering boxing matches in dicey neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago, where I was the only woman in the joint besides the round-card girls. These were ultimately great fun, but what powered me through at first was pure adrenaline, determination – and a good bit of fear. Often, it was the grace of the people I met that turned that into exhilaration.
I’m a big fan of preparation as a nerve-calmer, and in the planning stages of a writing assignment I’ll also talk about it with whomever lends an ear. I love the sense of accomplishment when I’ve met a deadline. I also treasure the feedback and even the friendships that have flowed from readers. Connecting with readers is the best part of being a writer.
What is one thing you wish you had known 10 years ago?
I wish I had known this: The past is over. It doesn’t exist anymore, so there’s no use reliving it and its old hurts, regrets and disappointments. Oh, the time I’ve wasted stewing! The Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers this phrase to consider while meditating: “Present moment, wonderful moment.” I often call that to mind to remind me to focus on now, on the wonder and grace around me right now.
What is one hope you have for the next 10 years?
That I’ll find more ways to appreciate the present, to be even more grateful for all that I have, and for what is unseen but is operating nonetheless on my behalf, and that I’ll have more opportunities to teach and serve. Teaching and mentoring and spreading the ideas in The Art of Grace is simply great fun.
Are there any books or resources you would like to recommend to our readers?
“A Game of Thrones” and the other extraordinarily absorbing books in George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” saga
“The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society” by Frans de Waal
Anything by Robert Benchley, the early 20th-century humorist and social commentator=
“Where the Lotus Blooms: Finding Inner Peace Through Mindfulness, Yoga and Meditation” by Sharon K. Cormier
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