Do I agree wholeheartedly with all the words below? I’m not sure I do. Do these words teach me things and make me think? Yes. And, because that’s a worthwhile thing, they are written here again for you. (For context to some of the things she writes – Anne Lamott is American and a writer by profession).
I am going to be 61 years old in 48 hours.
Wow. I thought i was only forty-seven, but looking over the paperwork, I see that I was born in 1954. My inside self does not have an age, although can’t help mentioning as an aside that it might have been useful had I not followed the Skin Care rules of the sixties, ie to get as much sun as possible, while slathered in baby oil. (My sober friend Paul O said, at eighty, that he felt like a young man who had something wrong with him.). Anyway, I thought I might take the opportunity to write down every single thing I know, as of today.
1. All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.
2. Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.
3. There is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you are waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve, or date it. This is the most horrible truth.
4. Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to their outsides. Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them, or get any of them sober. But radical self-care is quantum, and radiates out into the atmosphere, like a little fresh air. It is a huge gift to the world. When people respond by saying, “Well, isn’t she full of herself,” smile obliquely, like Mona Lisa, and make both of you a nice cup of tea.
5. Chocolate with 70% cacao is not actually a food. It’s best use is as bait in snake traps.
6. Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born
7. Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and sometimes nearly-evil men I have known were all writers who’d had bestsellers. Yet, it is also a miracle to get your work published (see #1.). Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesey holes. It won’t, it can’t. But writing can. So can singing.
8. Families; hard, hard, hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. (See #1 again.) At family gatherings where you suddenly feel homicidal or suicidal, remember that in half of all cases, it’s a miracle that this annoying person even lived. Earth is Forgiveness School. You might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants. When Blake said that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love, he knew that your family would be an intimate part of this, even as you want to run screaming for your cute little life. But that you are up to it. You can do it, Cinderellie. You will be amazed.
9. Food; try to do a little better.
10. Grace: Spiritual WD-40. Water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Dick Cheney and me exactly as much as He or She loves your grandchild. Go figure. The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and our world. To summon grace, say, “Help!” And then buckle up. Grace won’t look like Casper the Friendly Ghost; but the phone will ring, or the mail will come, and then against all odds, you will get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated holiness, even if you are sick of me saying it.
11. God; Goodnesss, Love energy, the Divine, a loving animating intelligence, the Cosmic Muffin. You will worship and serve something, so like St. Bob said, you gotta choose. You can play on our side, or Bill Maher’s and Franklin Graham’s. Emerson said that the happiest person on earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot, and look up. My pastor says you can trap bees on the floor of a Mason jar without a lid, because they don’t look up. If they did, they could fly to freedom.
11. Faith: Paul Tillich said the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. If I could say one thing to our little Tea Party friends, it would be this. Fundamentalism, in all its forms, is 90% of the reason the world is so terrifying. 3% is the existence of snakes. The love of our incredible dogs and cats is the closest most of us will come, on this side of eternity, to knowing the direct love of God; although cats can be so bitter, which is not the god part: the crazy Love is. Also, “Figure it out” is not a good slogan.
12. Jesus; Jesus would have even loved horrible, mealy-mouth self-obsessed you, as if you were the only person on earth. But He would hope that you would perhaps pull yourself together just the tiniest, tiniest bit–maybe have a little something to eat, and a nap.
13. Exercise: If you want to have a good life after you have grown a little less young, you must walk almost every day. There is no way around this. If you are in a wheelchair, you must do chair exercises. Every single doctor on earth will tell you this, so don’t go by what I say.
14. Death; wow. So f-ing hard to bear, when the few people you cannot live without die. You will never get over these losses, and are not supposed to. We Christians like to think death is a major change of address, but in any case, the person will live fully again in your heart, at some point, and make you smile at the MOST inappropriate times. But their absence will also be a lifelong nightmare of homesickness for you. All truth is a paradox. Grief, friends, time and tears will heal you. Tears will bathe and baptize and hydrate you and the ground on which you walk. The first thing God says to Moses is, “Take off your shoes.” We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know.
I think that’s it, everything I know. I wish I had shoe-horned in what E.L. Doctorow said about writing: “It’s like driving at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little aways ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.” I love that, because it’s true about everything we try. I wish I had slipped in what Ram Das said, that when all is said and done, we’re just all walking each other home. Oh, well, another time. God bless you all good.
Fears and Tears
It’s my dad’s birthday today. He would have been 94. He died in 1979, at the age of 54, of brain cancer. It was the end of the world. My brother John was 27, Stevo was 20, I was 25. I’m not positive we ever got over it, in the way that the world assured us we would, and hoped we would, although with these badly broken psychic legs, we learned to dance again, to hike again, with limps and weird orthopaedic shoes.
This is what the people in every city on my current book tour are living with: catastrophic losses. They are going through divorce, or they know they are about to; they have teenagers and young adults who are scaring them to death, with alcoholism, addiction, mental illness; or they have those things themselves, as do I, as do all of my closest friends. Some of them, on top of this, hate their bodies, and in some cases are joined in that hate by their spouses, and the culture.
All of this is being felt with the backdrop of a (let’s say) worrisome new administration. These are easily the most stricken, worried, sad, stunned audiences I’ve ever spoken to.
The people in my audiences would like to know how to keep the faith, spirits up, and how to keep their children alive. Easy!
Just kidding: hard. Hard hard hard. All I can offer is what works for me. Here’s what I share with my Sunday School kids and youth, the lessons and reminders that can lift and reassure us for a few hours at a time. Which, some days, is all we can hope for, and a miracle.
1) We do Fears and Tears, and Precious Community. We write down our fears and we hand them to God and we say, sometimes bitterly, “Here. Fine. It’s all yours.” The teenagers say, “What ever,” or “What ev,” which is the fourth great prayer. Sometimes we cry. A boy cried five days after the election because his family might be separated in these new times, and this gave a girl the courage to tear up too, because her cat was about to die. We did not hand the kids bumper stickers, or abuse them with silver-lining talks, or pummel them with the insane belief that God never gives you more than you can bear–what a crock!–because we are these kids’ precious community, and wanted to let them feel and be wherever they are. We, six people all told, did comfort them, with truth, and hugs. Then–the most spiritual thing we can do together–we overate. And it was good.
2) We do Loved and Chosen. The world is not telling them that they are loved, exactly as is. Some are brown, why, or overweight. A woman told me recently that when she was naughty as a child in a fundamentalist household, she asked her mother if she still loved her, and her mother said, “Not when you’re bad.” So we do the opposite. I ask, “Is anyone here wearing one green and one orange shoelace?” and a very tell and shy girl will raise her hand, and I will say, “Honey Bear? You are loved and chosen. As is, here and now and always. This is a come as you are system.” The girl (who had just gotten arrested for drunk and disorderly) smiled, blushed, and dipped her head like a swan.
3) We commit to giving street people bottles of water and granola bars, picking up garbage, and flirting with old people, all week, ’til we meet again. (My son gives homeless guys at intersections a bottle of water and a cigarette.) (I love this so much.) We give away money to the homeless, even if we wish they would not spend it on drugs or alcohol. It’s none of our business. Our business is to serve the poor, to give and give, to live from our merciful hearts. Jesus did not ask blind guy, after healing him, what he planned on looking at that day.
4) We promise each other to stick together, no matter what. I tell them that they must not keep any bad secrets, that they must tell a safe grown-up–a parent, pastor, teacher or me. This will be the beginning of healing. You can’t heal it if you don’t reveal it. Tell it! And then if we stick together, we will be okay, or at least medium-okay, which is a small miracle if you have been freaked out since (say, hypothetically) November: The whole system of being a human works because we are not all crazy on the same day. Ask around, tell your truth: Someone will nod gently, and say, “Me too. I was there Tuesday–just mad as a HATTER. These are the things I did, that helped me hit the reset button….Let me go get a nice cup of tea.”
5) We go and join our grown-ups after the service is over, and we overeat again, this time with the adults, which is fine, especially during these times, as long as you are not mean to yourself about it. (Harshing yourself for being human is the only sin, along with killing another. As long as we are on this topic, it is a good idea on your worst days to write a note to yourself from Jesus that says, “Try not to kill anyone today,” and tape it to the phone.)
Oh, maybe I also tell the people in my book tour audiences my plans for the Resistance, or whom I am currently crowd sourcing, or websites where brilliant political people help me understand how we might proceed, and help me laugh again, because laughter is IS IS carbonated holiness; I tell them is their kids are scaring them to death, check out Al-Anon. But with my kids, I say what my pastor always says: I love you; please please please tie your shoe, just for my tired old Nana peace of mind; and God bless you GOOD.
And today, if I was home with them, we would all sing Happy Birthday to my father.