Forgotten Grace

Reflections on humility, civility for the holiday season

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The world seems to get a little kinder and gentler around the Christmas holidays – not just for Christians, but throughout the world.
Walk through a mall in many Middle East countries in December and you’ll see the same festive decorations that you see at any of our malls.
The fact that they pray to a different God is inconsequential to the respect that they have (with of course a heavy dose of the same commercial interests that we have) for the religion with over a billion followers throughout the world.
Lost in the hustle and bustle (and the pressure) of Hollywood and Wall Street-inspired gift giving are the times of reflection on the true meaning of the holiday.
For many of us (me included), we have that quiet reflection when we see a certain movie or hear a certain song on the radio. Usually, they remind us of long-forgotten reasons that are saved in rhyme.
For me, the songs that hit me in the gut are “The Christmas Shoes” by the Christian vocal group NewSong and “Where Are You, Christmas?” by Faith Hill, as does any production or songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” kind of the ’70s Broadway version (and respectful version) of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But these are fleeting moments in time that quickly drift to the next moment. Rarely do we ever see or hear something that affects us so profoundly that we will never forget it.
That moment happened to me a couple Fridays ago at the Cowesett Inn in West Warwick.
The Cowesett Inn, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a bedrock restaurant in the Crompton section of the town of West Warwick (off Route 2 on Route 3).
A restaurant owned by the Paolucci family for decades and now run by son Jimmy.
A place that has employed thousands of West Warwick residents and indeed people from throughout the state.
A place where you went for special dinners growing up, and a place where you went for graduation parties, receptions and celebrations of all kinds.
And a place where you went to grieve after the passing of a loved one.
For me, it is like being home. Kind of like the “Cheers” of the Pawtuxet Valley.
For more years than I can remember, I have always gone to the Cowesett for an after-work pop or two and dinner on Fridays. I am usually joined by my wife, Celeste, after she also gets out of work, and of course see many of the “regulars” who have their own traditions.
It is with that backdrop that this story begins.
On this particular Friday I was sitting at my normal bar stool (we always have dinners at the bar – we like the social nature of it) when a couple (probably around my age) walked in and sat at the only stools available to my left.
We greeted each other in a neighborly fashion and the woman asked what I was drinking.
I proudly told them that I was drinking a “Dr. Barber” (which is a Manhattan named after my uncle, the late Dr. Paul Barber, who was beloved in the town of West Warwick and delivered over 4,000 babies before he passed a few years ago).
We had some easy conversation, with the couple explaining how they moved to West Warwick about six years ago.
They said that they loved the town and loved coming to the Cowesett Inn for cocktails and dinner, and that they enjoyed eating at the bar.
I didn’t tell them my political history but heartily agreed with them on what a special place West Warwick, and its people are.
They enjoyed their cocktail and ordered their dinner.
The conversation continued and just as their dinner was being brought to them, someone tapped me on the back to say hi.
I exchanged pleasantries and when I turned back to continue the conversation, what I saw and heard was one of the most heartwarming and timeless things that I remember seeing, in a public place, for decades.
The couple joined hands, bowed their heads, and said a soft prayer before eating their meal.
That moment was as great a present that anyone could ever give. A soft, reverent moment that has become rare and certainly no longer the norm.
It is now almost an act of courage in an agnostic world that scoffs at religion but uses it when it helps politically.
The Gift of Grace.
Can you imagine how the world could change if we returned to that kind of humility and civility?
From the Levesque family to yours, our very best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Former West Warwick Mayor J. Michael Levesque is regular columnist for the Rhode Island Echo and an occasional contributor to these newspapers. He resides with his family in the Buttonwoods section of Warwick.

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