"The world is a more difficult place to live in than it was when Anne Lamott's runaway bestseller "Traveling mercies" was published six years ago. There's the big picture, in which terrorism and war have become the new normal, George W. Bush is president, and environmental devastation looms ever closer. And there are greater personal demands on Lamott's faith as well: turning fifty, her mother's Alzheimer's, her son Sam's adolescence, and the passing of friends and time. Fortunately for those of us who are anxious about the state of the world, whose parents are also aging and dying, whose children are growing harder to recognize as they enter their teenage years, Plan B offers hope through the panic and despair. With her trademark humor, wisdom, and honesty, Lamott tells us stories of daily life-- shopping at the supermarket on her birthday and winning a free ham she doesn't want ; skiing with a dying friend who teaches her to fall ; celebrating Thanksgiving with Sam and his dad ; attending protest rallies. She watches the seasons come and go, and shares with us the comfort and insights that she draws from life around her even as she continues to panic and despair-- and also to struggle, as all of us must, to make the world a safer, and more loving, place to live" -- container.
Some of my favorite bits.
From "red cords" in which she's complaining about George W. Bush bringing about the end of the world:
"Sometimes I feel like the big possum who has been coming into our driveway lately, worried and waddly. I hear that the stress hormones possums produce are off the charts. Possums live only a few years in the wild. I suppose that if I had two penises and still fainted a lot, I'd be stressed to the max, too."
From "holy of holies 101" about starting up a Sunday School class for kids:
"One secret of life is that the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day. Another secret is that laughter is carbonated holiness."
"We did not exclude anyone because Jesus didn't. On bad days, I could not imagine what he had been thinking."
From "good friday world":
"In a library, you can find small miracles and truth, and you might find something that will make you laugh so hard that you will get shushed, in the friendliest way. I have found sanctuary in libraries my whole life, and there is sanctuary there now, from the war, from the storms of our families and our own minds. Libraries are like mountains or meadows or creeks: sacred space."
"I'm decades past my salad days, and even past the main course: maybe I'm in my cheese days--sitting atop the lettuce leaves on the table for a while now with all the other cheese balls, but with much nutrition to offer, and still delicious."
From "sam's brother":
"I tell you, when God is not being cryptic and silent, He or She is so obvious."
From "cruise ship":
"Once again: If Jesus was right, these are all my brothers and sisters. And they are so letting themselves go."
When not writing on faith, Lamott writes novels—Blue Shoe, Joe Jones and Operating Instructions to name a few. The author also teaches writing and wrote an excellent resource for aspiring writers called Bird by Bird.
Although the essays could stand alone, they have a common thread. Each is an attempt by Lamott to show how her faith and life intersect at every turn, whether it be in grieving the loss of a beloved family pet, in starting a Sunday school at her church, or in dealing with her menopausal body, which she nicknamed the “Menopausal Death Crone.” She does not speak in lofty theological terms, but rather in the voice of the common person. She speaks of brokenness and hunger and war and unforgiveness. She speaks of healing and feeding the soul, of peace and of the grace to forgive. She examines and re-examines what it means to be a person of faith. The author invites her readers to do the same in the context of their own lives.
Lamott’s honesty is refreshing, although at times her bluntness can seem harsh. Upon reflection, though, she gives voice to the thoughts that many of us may have but don’t dare speak aloud. Consider this about her mother, with whom she had a difficult relationship at best: “I have to say from day one after she died, I liked having a dead mother much more than having an impossible one.” Later, she adds, “I really loved her and took great care of her. I couldn’t, even after she died, grant her amnesty. Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done, and I guess I wasn’t done.” That won’t resonate with everyone who reads it, but it certainly did with me.
In the next chapter, about beginning a children’s Sunday school class, her observations might move you to tears—and if Lamott had her way, move you to action as well. For her, faith is not abstract; it is a way of life, something to flesh out in everyday existence. She believes in “loving out loud.”
In her earlier work, Traveling Mercies, son Sam is a little guy, and she tells often outrageous and always courageous stories of raising him as a single mom through Sam’s younger years. Now Sam is a teenager, and she has a whole new set of concerns. She wants him to study, to be successful, to be loving, to work hard at whatever he does. In typical teen style, he usually flies in the opposite direction. Every two weeks, the rule is that he must accompany his mother to church. They argue. He sulks. Does this sound at all familiar? Her words: “Of course, he doesn’t want to come to regular worship, but he doesn’t want to floss either. He does not want to have any hard work, ever, but I can’t give him that without injuring him. It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life.” Sam is a major focus of her life, and she wants what is best for him. For now, that means having Sam understand what role an active faith plays.
Nonetheless, Lamott doesn’t offer pat answers. In fact, she seems aware that there are still many unanswered questions. She doesn’t claim to be an expert. The reader will not be swayed by flowery prose or lofty doctrine. At times, her crude, explicit speech might seem incongruous with a book on faith.
Lamott will not be heard apologizing for either her style or her beliefs. What you see is what you get. Rarely does she get a neutral response, and I think that is just fine with her. Some may be amused, some offended and some just blown away by her particular brand of faith. If what she shares can make us think, laugh, cry, and perhaps even examine our own faith—in God, Buddha, or whatever higher being we connect with— she would, I believe, be pleased.
Lamott is unfailingly honest about herself and others. Predictably, some reviewers have complained about an occasional "vulgarity," but to me that just makes her writing more honest and real. After all Jesus, himself, was nothing if not radical and honest. I suggest that anyone offended by this book has no life and little compassion.
Lamott has all these great lines. We were listening to her read her book; I would recommend this as she is such a great raconteur. I was unable to write down all the great lines, but here's a small sample:
"If you insist on having a destination when you enter a library, you're short-changing yourself."
"Someday the lamb is going to lie down with the lion, but the lamb is not going to get any sleep."
"Jesus was soft on crime; he'd never get elected to anything."
"On my forty-ninth birthday, I decided that all of life is hopeless, and I would eat myself to death. These are dessert days."