Of Anne Lamott and Finding Peace

Whew.  It was an emotional week.  Resentment, surprise, determination, gratitude, #metoo-ness, and foxhole camaraderie permeated it.  I don’t do well with being upset or angry for any length of time. I’ve learned tools to center myself over the years, but this was a deeply-felt dredging of a memory that I had walled off for a long time.  The emotions ran higher than normal, and then the crying got old.  So snotty and messy and it gives me a headache.  I needed help finding my peace.  I got some relief by writing about my experience with the intention of benefitting others to either heal from their own wounding or to help current students avoid being caught in the same situation.  When all else fails, helping someone else centers me.  I love helping people.  But that didn’t quite get me back to functional.  I needed some outside help.

 It came in the diminutive form of author Anne Lamott, when she gave a lecture at SMU this week.  Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors. I was introduced to her when I was gigantically pregnant with my first son.  I mean gigantic.  I grow big 9+ pound babies and by the time my baby shower rolled around I hadn’t seen my toes for months.  A lovely mentor gave me the book “Operating Instructions” by Lamott, telling me it had really helped her through her daughter’s first year.  My mentor suffered from the same brand of perfectionism that I often fall prey to, so I was eager to give it a read.

In “Operating Instructions”, Lamott unsparingly describes her first year as a single mother.  Here is an excerpt: “I wish he could take longer naps in the afternoon. He falls asleep and I feel I could die of love when I watch him, and I think to myself that he is what angels look like. Then I doze off, too, and it’s like heaven, but sometimes only twenty minutes later he wakes up and begins to make his gritchy rodent noises, scanning the room wildly. I look blearily over at him in the bassinet, and think, with great hostility, Oh, God, he’s raising his loathsome reptilian head again.” 

As you can imagine, that mix of humor and honesty made it okay that I wasn’t perfect as a mother as I navigated that first year.  I remember being so surprised they just hand you a child at the hospital and send you home, with no instructions or anything.  That I hadn’t been an adult long enough myself to be the one in charge, but it worked out.  The other book that was immensely helpful was “So That’s What They’re For”, about nursing.  I hope it’s still in print, that one made me laugh too. 

Anyway, this delightful author came to share about her new book, “Hallelujah Anyway” in front of 2400 of us in a 90-year-old auditorium Monday.  She was authentic, self-effacing, and a tonic. She talked about the absolute necessity of finding forgiveness for ourselves and others as we all blunder through this life, and that being kind may be the greatest gift we can give each other.  While the whole evening felt like bathing in a bucket of pearls, there was one thing that stood out to me, and that was the battle to stop judging, and just let people be, without the benefit of telling them my ideas for them.  Too bad really, I have lots of good ideas, especially where my children are concerned.  However, they are mostly grown now, and I can’t run next to them holding sunscreen and juice boxes any longer. 

Here was a recipe to find peace that Anne Lamott gave us all on Monday night:  Go to the bank, take out ten $5 bills and hand them out.  Give them to that annoying homeless man in the intersection, or to the homeless people on the sidewalk by CVS, even the guy suspiciously close to the liquor store. The mental catch – It’s not our business what they do with the money, what is important is that we are kind, and share a little and without reservation.  After all, when Jesus healed the blind man, he didn’t then turn around and say; “So what are you going to be looking at?”  That analogy made me laugh, and it made me think, and it made me feel better.  You don’t have to give people $5’s, you can rescue dogs or give money to organizations that do that, or donate coats, or send money to Puerto Rico.  The point is, I think, to reach out and make someone’s day a little better.  That act of kindness then fills the empty center created by sorrow or aloneness and you feel whole.  At least for a little while.  I haven’t gone and gotten those $5’s out yet, but it’s on my list.  I am also going to go buy “Hallelujah Anyway”, because I have realized one more time that on most days, I need all the help I can get.


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