Sunday, April 23, 2006

Traveling Mercies (Anne Lamott)

What I like so much about Anne Lamott's writing is that not only is she very, very funny, she's also incredibly honest about her feelings. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith explores Lamott's Christian faith. She talks about being raised mostly without religion: "My aunt Pat married a Jew, with a large Jewish family in tow, but they were not really into Moses Jews; they were bagelly Jews. My closest cousin was bar mitzvahed, but other than accusing you of anti-Semitism if you refused second helpings of my uncle Millard's food, they might as well have been Canadians."

In one chapter, Lamott recounts being stuck on a plane encountering some abrupt and terrifying turbulence (if you go to the This American Life's website, and type "episode 104" in the search box, you can listen to a streaming audio version of this story). She describes the man sitting next to her on the plane as "reading a book by a famous right-wing Christian novelist about the Apocalypse. A newspaper had asked me to review this book when it first came out, because its author and I are both Christians--although as I pointed out in my review, he's one of those right-wing Christians who thinks that Jesus is coming back next Tuesday right after lunch, and I am one of those left-wing Christians who thinks that perhaps this author is just spiritualizing his own hysteria."

And one of my favorite chapters is about one of Lamott's vacations to Mexico, where she goes to the beach and is discouraged to see all the young teenagers in bikinis. She talks about breaking through "Butt Mind." "I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way. So we walked along, the three of us, the aunties and I, to meet Sam and our friends in the sand. I imagined that I could feel the aunties beaming, as if they had been held captive in a dark closet too long, like Patty Hearst. Freed finally to stroll on a sandy Mexican beach: what a beautiful story. It did not trouble me that parts of my body--the auntie parts-- kept moving even after I had come to a full halt. Who cares? People just need to be soft and clean."
(Lamott does feel a bit embarassed by the aunties later in the chapter.)

This book is not preachy or full of flashing lights and buzzers. It's very funny, heartbreaking, and touching. For Lamott, miracles are in the smaller moments of life.

Next book up: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

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