Thursday, January 2, 2014

Grace Note

Today, grace looks a lot like reading.

I finally finished Some Assembly Required, and I'm incredibly glad I did. If you've not read anything by Anne Lamott before, please do. I recommend Traveling Mercies, and if you're a writer, Bird by Bird.

I had some trouble getting through this one, for a number of reasons. One of which was dealing with the grief of losing my grandmother. Strange things bring grief back to a person. Little triggers can be anywhere and everywhere. But here, they were quite obvious. Some Assembly Required is the journal of the first year of Annie's son's first son. During that year, a much beloved and elderly relative is in the last stages of his life, and passes away. I'm not really spoiling anything for you. Grief in Anne Lamott books is nothing new to me, but this hit me a little hard, especially considering how small the section about the actual death was.

I love the encouragement, peace, and grace I can find in these books. Annie's anxieties and neuroses are akin to mine, and reading about how another imperfect person deals with these things is cathartic, and often very funny.

Instead of rambling on about my interpretations of her work, I'm going to leave this post with a few quotations from Some Assembly Required. These are passages which stuck out most to me, for one reason or another.

From an interview with [her son] Sam, September 25.

Sam: "It's so incredibly humbling when someone forgives you--I can't ever believe it when people forgive me, because you know how badly you've screwed up, and how you've hurt them, and how hard it is for them to be brave enough to find it in themselves to reexperience the pain you caused, and the humiliation that is in them because of you--and for someone to be willing to refeel that much like shit again, reexperience it out of not wanting to lose you, means how deeply precious you are to them. And that's pure gold."

I'm going to go ahead and transcribe an entire entry. This is Annie's from November 9.

"The only son of some people in town Sam and I know has died.

How on earth can the parents survive that? How can the grandparents?

Same old inadequate answer: They will survive with enormous sadness and devastation. I don't see how that is possible. But looking back over the years, I see that people do go on against absolutely all odds, and truly savage loss.

Some of us have a raggedy faith. You cry for a long time, and then after that are defeated and flattened for a long time. Then somehow life starts up again. Other people set up foundations so other kids don't die the way theirs did, and so their kids didn't die in vain, or they do political work for the common good. Your friends surround you like white blood cells. It's just fucking unbelievably sad, pretty much forever, when so much love and life have been packed into one person and then the person dies too soon. But you can shake your fist at the void with scorn and say, "You didn't get her, you bastard. We did." Some aching beauty comes with huge loss, although maybe not right away, when it would be helpful. Life is a very powerful force, despite the constant discouragement. So if you are a person with connections to life, a few tendrils eventually break through the sidewalk of loss, and you notice them, maybe space out studying them for a few moments, or maybe they tickle you into movement and response, if only because you have to scratch your nose."

I told myself I wouldn't do this, but I don't see any other way around. Here's another full entry.

November 27, Letter to Jax [Annie's grandson] on the Secret of Life

"Dear Jax: Yesterday was your first Thanksgiving, and it is the time of year to impart to you the secret of life. You will go through your life thinking there was as day in second grade that you must have missed, when the grown-ups came in and explained everything important to the other kids. They said: 'Look, you're human, you're going to feel isolated and afraid a lot of the time, and have bad self-esteem, and feel uniquely ruined, but here is the magic phrase that will take this feeling away. It will be like a feather that will lift you out of that fear and self-consciousness every single time, all throughout your life.' And then they told the children who were there that day the magic phrase that everyone else in the world knows about and uses when feeling blue, which you don't know, because you were home sick the day the grown-ups told the children the way the whole world works.

But there was not such a day in school. No one got the instructions. That is the secret of life. Everyone is flailing around, winging it most of the time, trying to find the way out, or through, or up, without a map. This lack of instruction manual is how most people develop compassion, and how they figure out to show up, care, help and serve, as the only way of filling up and being free. Otherwise, you grow up to be someone who needs to dominate and shame others so no one will know you weren't there the day the instructions were passed out . . . ."

From February 3

"Besides, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if something was not my problem, I probably did not have the solution. There are no words for how much I hate, resent and resist this."

From April 20

" . . . my pastor Veronica says that peace is joy at rest, and joy is peace on its feet."

From June 7

"Sometimes--like at weddings or funerals--you have to eat vast quantities because you need to be weighted. You need ballast, or you might just float away in the pain or joy or anxiety. Other times, like today, you just want to shovel it in, for fun, and because you don't want to have to think too much. Eating is so familiar, and marvelously stupid."