“Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott


I read this book in 2008 but felt like it was time to read it again–and I’m so glad I did.  Anne Lamott is hilarious.

If you need some belly laughs with your deep spiritual thoughts, then give this a go.  It’s full of pain, love, God, doubt, and knowing looks.   It is not about baby or child loss specifically but she does talk an awful lot about grief and loss — about survival and faith.

The humorous parts are just too many to count, but I will tell you at one point she admits to having such awful thoughts that they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight of the cat dish.

Below are the excerpts that caught my eye/heart:

I’ve read that Augustine said that to look for God is to find him, but I was not looking for God, not really.  Or at any rate I didn’t know I was.

I guess it’s like discovering you’re on a shelf of a pawnshop, dusty and forgotten and maybe not worth very much.  But Jesus comes in and tells the pawnbroker, ‘ I’ll take her place on the shelf.  Let her go outside.’

I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.

All these years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately.  But what I’ve discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it…I’m pretty sure that it is only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed–which is to say, that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace.

Grief, as I read somewhere once, is a lazy Susan.  One day it is heave and underwater, and the next day it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening, and the next day numbness, silence.

The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it, like a nicotine craving.  I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away.  After a while it was like an inside shower, washing off some of the rust and calcification in my popes.  It was like giving a dry garden a good watering.  Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does.  Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit.

And I didn’t understand why as usual God couldn’t give me a loud or obvious answer, through a megaphone or thunder, skywriting or stigmata.  Why does God always use dreams, intuition, memory, phone calls, vague stirrings in my heart?I would say that this really doesn’t work for me at all.  Except that it does.

Like the theologian said, death is God’s no to all human presumptions.

I always thought that was heroic of her, that it spoke of such integrity to refuse to pretend that you’re doing well just to help other people deal with the fact that sometimes we face an impossible loss.

I prayed for the stamina to bear mystery and stillness.

I know that sometimes these friends feel that they have been expelled from the ordinary world they lived in before and that they are now citizens of the Land of the Fucked.

I believe that when all is said and done, all you can do is to show up for someone in crisis, which seems so inadequate.  But then when you do, it can radically change everything.  Your there-ness, your stepping into a scared parent’s line of vision, can be life giving, because often everyone else is in hiding — especially, in the beginning, the parents.  So you come to keep them company when it feels like the whole world is falling apart, and your being there says that just for this moment, this one tiny piece of the world is OK, or is at least better.

Patience is when God –or something– makes the now a little roomier.

Most of the time, all you have is the moment, and the imperfect love of the people around you.

I don’t know why life isn’t constructed to be seamless and safe, why we make such glaring mistakes, things fall so short of our expectations, and our hearts get broken and out kids do scary things and our parents get old and don’t always remember to put pants on before they go out for a stroll. I don’t know why it’s not more like it is in the movies, why things don’t come out neatly and lessons can’t be learned when you’re in the mood for learning them, why love and grace often come in such motley packaging.

…and then I remembered this basic religious principle that God isn’t there to take away our suffering or our pain but to fill it with his or her presence…

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