Anne Lamott is something of an expert on grace. And she’s a brilliant thinker and writer. As such, she’s widely cited in sermons. And some columns. The following are among my favorite Lamott quotes:
“[T]he most we can hope for on some days is to end up a little less crazy than before.”
“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
“Help is a prayer that’s always answered.”
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
“[T]he reason life works … is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day.”
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
A blurb from her latest book, “Small Victories” (2014), is the theme for this week’s I Swear Crossword.
Annie, as she refers to herself, was in Little Rock recently. A Friday night gig packed a church sanctuary with over 700 people. A Saturday morning follow-up was for women only. I forgive her, but not the organizers, for the latter’s discrimination.
I read “Small Victories” in bite-sized chunks. At a chapter a night, the 286 pages go by in three weeks. The content is rich; I need it dosed. The subtitle, “Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace,” says a lot.
The lead in “Small Victories” takes me by storm: “The worst possible thing you can do when you’re down in the dumps … is to take a walk with dying friends. They will ruin everything for you.”
If you know Lamott’s work, you sense that her literary tongue is in her ironic cheek. She continues: “[T]hey see themselves as fully alive. … They ruin your multitasking high, … They bust you by being grateful for the day, while you are obsessed with how thin your lashes have become ….”
The loosely threaded chapters amble amiably along, past my eyes and through my mind and heart. Annie takes me to San Quentin, where she’s to teach inmates how to tell stories. She takes me through a late-life crisis, in which she registers on match.com and has several dates.
She takes me into her childhood home, where her parents’ marriage falls apart. I learn, first-hand almost, how she reconciles with these perpetrators of … her life! Can there be forgiveness of someone after that person dies? Does it matter that the person is your parent?
It’s a twisty, winding road Lamott walks—and full of hard knocks. And she’s been walking it and sharing it for a while now. Ultimately, the journey is worth the effort.
I’ve been reading Annie for a decade. She puts her stuff out there for others to see. An open book, her life. I sense, in “Small Victories,” that she’s transitioning, sensing and feeling now what she’s known intellectually all along—that death is part of life. That, with each passing day, it grows closer to becoming a part of one’s reality.
And that she wants and needs her readers to experience this with her.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at email@example.com.