Last night I met a rock star. Well, not in the traditional sense of the term but in my world, a supernova.
I met the author Anne Lamott. She was speaking at Lenoir-Rhyne University as part of their Visiting Writers Series and before the program began, she simply walked out into the audience – no introduction, just started strolling down one of the aisles, shaking hands, signing books and posing for photos.
She was in the section reserved for VIP’s but my friend, Lyz, and I broke ranks and slipped in for our close encounter with grace. There I was standing right in front of one of my very favorite authors and I, the clever one with all of the witty retorts, just froze.
Actually, I melted – into a puddle of salt.
Before you write me off as a post-menopausal ninny or worse, a literary stalker, let me give you some context for my emotional tsunami.
I’ve known about Anne Lamott since 1994 when I read her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It’s an amazingly personal book about, well, writing, of course, but so much more. She shares her approach to writing but she also writes about her life – warts and all – in a remarkably honest and often wickedly funny way.
She says, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I do hope a few of you are squirming nervously now.
No, really, I don’t hold grudges. (Insert Muttley laugh.)
I dreamed about being a writer back then and I was mesmerized with her words. Mesmerized but not motivated to really write. I was in my late 30’s in a long-term relationship and had a loving and supportive family, premium cable and a good job that I liked a lot. I was leading a happy but seriously unexamined life.
In short, I didn’t have much to write about.
Be careful what you wish for.
A decade or so later, after losing my parents and my partner and perhaps a bit of my mind, I returned to Anne Lamott. And there she was – just like a trusted bestie you would share your heart with over coffee at the kitchen table.
I picked up her book, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, and it was a balm to my scabby soul. I kept that book by my bedside and read it and reread it as I navigated my way back to myself – and to God.
I clung to her nuggets of wisdom like a seagull to a Cheeto. Pearls like this, “Sometimes grace is a ribbon of mountain air that gets in through the cracks.”
And this, “I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace’s arrival. But no, it’s clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark.”
Yes. I remember reading that passage and thinking that that’s exactly how I was feeling. “Me, too.”
And last night, this was Lamott’s advice to writers – to write what you would like to come upon. Write what is the best medicine for you and maybe through a little grace, someone reads your words and says, “Me, too.”
This was certainly the case for me and her book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. This book taught me how to pray. Maybe taught is not the right word. This book gave me permission to pray in my own way – my own messy unorthodox way.
Disclaimer: I’m an Episcopalian and we don’t really talk much about praying. That’s why we have the Book of Common Prayer chocked full of liturgy to follow. We don’t go rogue.
Lamott writes, “You might shout at the top of your lungs or whisper into your sleeve, ‘I hate you, God,’ That is a prayer too, because it is real, it is truth, and maybe it is the first sincere thought you have had in months.”
I read these words and thought, “Me, too.” And my aching loneliness seemed bearable in that moment.
Her words made me feel heard and there is no possible way to teach that in a writing class.
So when I found myself standing before this dear friend who I had never met but who had been with me through some of my darkest ugly cry hours, I crumbled. It was like having a reiki session in front of 1500 people, only Anne Lamott and I were the only ones in the room.
I really did panic for a moment when I couldn’t get my mouth to form words. She took my hand and I think I managed to gurgle out, “Thank you.” She looked into my eyes and smiled sweetly and held my hand for what felt like a long time. And then I felt my other hand raise and gently touch her cheek.
To her credit, she did not scream for security, she just softly nodded like she knew exactly what I was thinking in that moment.
It was as if she were saying, “Me, too.”