04/01/2012 04:56 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2012

Unexpected Grace on the Creative Path

We could all use a little grace now and then. Whether you define it as an unexpected blessing, a stroke of luck, or a spiritual wink from above, grace breathes into ordinary life with encouragement and inspiration. Fortune and fortitude rolled into one, grace keeps us going, particularly on the creative path that is so fraught with self doubt and discouragement.

I have looked for grace in cathedrals and forests, and along beaches. I have beckoned it with candles lit in sacred places and beseeched it with prayer. Although grace, like oxygen, may indeed be all around us -- omnipresent, as it were -- I have become aware of it most acutely in unexpected places: in undeserved kindness, the helpfulness of strangers, and once, about five years ago, in the Department of Motor Vehicles.

There was a long line just to get in the door to wait with all the others. I checked in, received my code number, A273, which would be called when it was my turn, and then took my place on a hard plastic chair. The digital sign above the service counters displayed the numbers of customers now being served, while an automated voice recited them in apparent random order... E411, C578, D049... It was an odd-sounding bingo game, and I wasn't winning. As a writer, this metaphor wasn't lost on me.

To write is to wait: for the words to come, for the words to be right, for the words to be accepted. Waiting is such a part of the process, the question becomes: what do you do with it? Unfortunately, the temptation is to give up, to tell ourselves that it's futile, that we'll never accomplish our goals or make anything worthy of our own expectations, let alone those of others. Sadly, I can call to mind so many talented people who have given up a creative pursuit (and, no, not just because of the need to have a day job), because they just couldn't believe in it anymore. The wait was too long.

After an hour and a half in the DMV, still clutching my wrinkled paper call-out code, I had no choice but to leave, otherwise I'd be late for my next appointment. Discarding my number at the door without it ever being called, I left, completely discouraged by the waste of time.

On the way back from my meeting, I decided I had to surrender to the process. Being self-employed, I have flexibility in my schedule, so if I had to camp out at the DMV, then so be it. This time, I remembered to bring along some pages to be edited, which I had forgotten in the car on the first visit.

I knew the rules, so I didn't even bother to tell the check-in person on the afternoon shift that I had been there before. I took my new code, B348, and prepared for a long wait. I hadn't even sat down on the chair, however, when the automated voice called my number.

I straightened, scanned the digital display for the flashing incoming number, and proceeded to counter number 8. "There must be some mistake," I blurted out.

The woman behind the desk looked at my number "No, that's you."

"But I just got here. There are people who have obviously been here longer."

"Looks like today's your lucky day." The woman took my paperwork and tapped on her keyboard.

I was in and through the process in less than six minutes, even though there were just as many people in the waiting area as before. A computer glitch? An error in the check-in line?

Before I could decide, something red caught my eye. There on the gray tiled floor, two steps from the last station where I picked up a new copy of my license, was a large velvety rose petal, fresh and perfectly curled as if it had dropped from a garden just a moment ago.

Roses have always held a spiritual meaning for me and rose petals in particular, like divine fingerprints. There on the floor of the DMV, where I had waited with futility and then, inexplicably and unexpectedly, was whisked through the system, I found a more useful metaphor for the creative process. Yes, there will be long periods when nothing seems to happen, when my creativity feels blocked and the world remains unreceptive. That waiting time can be a gift, a perfect vacuum waiting to be filled with introspection, re-evaluation, instruction, and practice. To wait does not mean "no," but rather "not yet."

And when we feel as if we just can't wait any more, grace makes itself known, in a smile, in a breeze, and in a rose petal at the DMV.