Best-selling author Anne Lamott’s tender, sage musings on her struggles will comfort anyone who doesn’t always follow through on his or her best intentions – which means everyone.
Best-selling author Anne Lamott reminds readers that truth is a paradox. Contradictions rule where you most want order. Life, the author says, is the pain you suffer and the joy you breathe. For many, spiritual growth and compassionate humanity stem from the unavoidable disasters – death, destruction and desolation. Paradox teaches that misery is not the main well of existence. When life is most wretched, you still have more, Lamott believes, to live for and learn.
Play is learning how to wait, how to applaud someone else’s success, how to let others go first. Anne Lamott
People magazine called this, “Part memoir, part manual and part sermon from the church of Lamott, this satisfying escape points to notes of beauty in our uncertain world.” The New York Times said that Lamott, “talks about God, politics and other unmentionables, and gently exhorts her readers, as she does herself, to find joy in a bleak and chaotic world.” The Wall Street Journal assured readers, “Given the warmth, liveliness and intimacy of her prose, time with one of her books can feel like a visit with a friend.”
Simply being right, Lamott explains, rarely proves rewarding. People confidently assess the world from their own perspectives, proclaiming that others are only as they see them. Inflated by their own assuredness, they deflate just as easily. Seeing people and situations as they are, she asserts, teaches you that loneliness, fear, hurt and confusion come to everyone.
Gratitude is seeing how someone changed your heart and quality of life, helped you become the good parts of the person you are. Anne Lamott
Even a helping hand, Lamott writes, can’t eliminate the pain and tragedy, but therein lies the paradox: The awfulness was real. But, the author relates, so was the solace of strangers.
“You Have Value”
Trying to fill the holes in your heart with people and things, in Lamott’s metaphor, is like trying to get bread at the hardware store. Perhaps your need stems from a childhood with parents who were stressed or unavailable. If so, you probably learned to be helpful to make their lives easier. You absorbed the idea that no one accepted your perspective or understood that you could feel uncomfortable, sad, confused or difficult. You learned, Lamott suspects, that your value derived from what you could do for others, not from your intrinsic being.
Empathy begins when we realize how much alike we all are. Anne Lamott
She repeats her main theme: You have value as you are. Nothing external is necessary because your value is already in your life, the water you drink and the evening light you notice. When you accept that, Lamott avows, you’ll realize everyone else has value, too.
Helping Doesn’t Always Help
Finding peace of mind, Lamott states in the strongest terms, is an “inside job” that doesn’t come from someone else’s help. Money, jobs, fame or other external definitions of success won’t provide it. She insists that someone else isn’t the answer to your problems. If this is a difficult truth to accept about yourself, the author recognizes that it is even harder to recognize about those you love. Lamott reiterates: You can choose hope and life and light for yourself, but not for anyone else. When you accept that you can’t help, you free other people to help themselves.
Intimacy with Hate
Lamott regrets the modern prevalence of hatred. Some people resist it with wisdom. Others find resisting harder; they discover a satisfying righteousness in hate. Hatred, she says, is the zombie parasite that takes over your soul.
Like the rest of us, I am a mixed grill of beauty and self-centeredness, pettiness and magnanimity, judgment and humility. Anne Lamott
If you can discover how and why you hate, Lamott says, that knowledge will increase your self-respect by helping you discover or rediscover your ability to feel empathy, a way of realizing how similar everyone is, including you and the person you hate most. When you stop focusing on hatred, you’ll see that life holds much to enjoy.
Living with Dying
Lamott urges you not to dread death. It is not, she says, the enemy of life. Being present with death helps soothe the anxiety surrounding it. Loss is hard, but Lamott advises casting a steady gaze on loss to discover what else it presents.
Empathy, a moment’s compassion, seeing that everyone has equal value, even people who have behaved badly, is as magnetic a force as gratitude. Anne Lamott
Those who are gone, Lamott says, continue to visit. They do it in flashes of something you would have shared with them, or in a sudden insight that they are closer than you thought. These portents of connection often occur in mundane moments.
Many people don’t connect with support groups’ devotion to a higher power. A sense of a higher power focuses on trust, Lamott clarifies, which many alcoholics have a hard time maintaining. It is also about playfulness and opening the heart to delight. Being around a group of people as they share these values can help you when you need a little extra hope.
Lamott regards the family as a great laboratory for working through the blocks in the ability to love. Those difficult relations become less “them” and everyone becomes more “we.” You might never like some of your relatives, she concedes, but age suggests that unexpected changes will happen. You may even express thanks for the opportunity your family gives you to laugh at the foibles of humanity.
Anne Lamott has tilled this ground many times over. Each of her books superficially resembles the others, but only superficially. Somehow, with every title, she finds and shares new insights and new ways to convey to readers her profound compassion for their – and her own – basic, confused, uncertain, mistake-prone, easily deluded humanity.
Only kindness, forgiveness and love can save us. Anne Lamott
Lamott writes with great economy and accessible wisdom. Her distinctive, understated style and willingness to shine a light on her own flaws raises her work to a level beyond self-help. She has created a one-woman genre of self-reflection and functional advice. Anyone feeling lonely or at the mercy of their demons and anyone who knows someone who does – that would encompass nearly everyone – will welcome Lamott’s gentle words of encouragement.
Anne Lamott’s other books include Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life; Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy; Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers; and Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith among others.