Heal­ing wis­dom

Anne Lamott of­fers so­lace for anx­i­eties of mod­ern life

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Pa­tri­cia Dawn Robert­son

ANNE Lamott’s lat­est dis­patch from north­ern Cal­i­for­nia of­fers up gen­tle guid­ance for the dispir­ited. Stitches: A Hand­book on Mean­ing, Hope and Re­pair is Lamott’s prac­ti­cal re­sponse to the ex­is­ten­tial chal­lenges of mod­ern life. It’s a med­i­ta­tion on how to gen­er­ate hope and re­store mean­ing in an anx­i­ety-rid­dled era “of po­lar bears float­ing out to sea on scraps of ice.” Stitches is a com­pan­ion book to Lamott’s 2012 best-seller, Help, Thanks Wow: The Three Es­sen­tial Prayers. Her books fly off of the shelves be­cause loyal read­ers can count on her for so­lace. She’s a wise owl in a pe­riod when the land­scape is lit­tered with nat­ter­ing crows. Like any gifted writer, her prose im­proves with a sec­ond read. Lamott’s 15 books, which in­clude nov­els and non-fic­tion, are the kind of ti­tles read­ers hold onto pos­ses­sively. Bet­ter to buy a friend her own copy than part with a cher­ished pa­per­back of Lamott’s droll ad­vice to writ­ers in Bird by Bird. As the daugh­ter of athe­ists, Lamott re­belled in the only way a Cal­i­for­nia flower child could — she em­braced Je­sus. The de­vout, yet pro­gres­sive, Chris­tian em­braces this in­her­ent con­tra­dic­tion. She’s pro-choice, a fem­i­nist and gay-pos­i­tive. This stance leads to tense dis­cus­sions with other Chris­tians and sets Lamott apart. She also doesn’t be­lieve in a lit­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Bi­ble. Lamott’s mod­ern def­i­ni­tion of God ap­pears in the first chap­ter of Stitches called Be­gin­ning: “If I use the word ‘God’ I sure don’t mean an old man in the sky who loves the oc­ca­sional goat sac­ri­fice. I mean ‘God’ as Jane Kenyon de­scribes God: ‘I am food on the pris­oner’s plate… / the pa­tient gar­dener / of the dry and weedy gar­den… / the stone step, / the latch, and the work­ing hinge.’ I mean God as short­hand for The Good, for the an­i­mated en­ergy of love; for Life, for the light that ra­di­ates from within peo­ple and from above; in the en­er­gies of na­ture, even in our rough, messy lives.” Stitches re­vis­its some fa­mil­iar themes ex­plored in Lamott’s pre­vi­ous work: hope, grace, good­ness, grat­i­tude, won­der, the Golden Rule, re­cov­ery, for­give­ness and faith. The weekend af­ter the New­town, Conn., school shoot­ings, Lamott re­veals her lack of crafti­ness while teach­ing two Sun­day school stu­dents how to make an­gels from cof­fee fil­ters. “I al­ways end up telling the kids the same things: that they are cho­sen, that the light shines in the dark­ness, and the dark­ness has not over­come it,” she writes. “I ask the kids at Sun­day school if they want to talk about what has hap­pened, or if they would rather make art. One hun­dred per cent of the time, they would rather make art.” In the same chap­ter, Lamott says she sub­scribes to the great truth at­trib­uted to Emily Dick­in­son: hope in­spires the good to re­veal it­self. “This is al­most all I ever need to re­mem­ber. Grav­ity and sad­ness yank us down, and hope gives us a nudge to help one another get back up or sit with the fallen on the ground, in the abyss, in sol­i­dar­ity,” she writes. The depth of Lamott’s per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with grief is ev­i­dent through­out the book, but never more so than in the chap­ter she ded­i­cates to her late friend Pammy, who died at 37: “Some­times, af­ter a dis­as­ter or great loss, when we are hang­ing on for dear life, we strug­gle to un­der­stand how we will ever be able to ex­pe­ri­ence co­he­sion and safety again.”

Stitches doesn’t of­fer up trite so­lu­tions for those who seek co­he­sion and safety in a tur­bu­lent world. In­stead, Lamott humbly ac­com­pa­nies her read­ers along the way, gen­er­ously of­fer­ing up her hope­ful pres­ence as we all strive to­gether to re­turn to a sense of equa­nim­ity. Pa­tri­cia Dawn Robert­son is a free­lance jour­nal­ist

based in Wakaw, Sask.

SAM LAMOTT PHOTO

Anne Lamott’s books fly off the shelves be­cause loyal read­ers can count on her for so­lace.

Stitches A Hand­book on Mean­ing, Hope and Re­pair

By Anne Lamott River­head Hard­cover, 112 pages, $19.50

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