Do you hear what I hear?

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The Scream

“I have passed through the initial five stages of grief: Denial anger bargaining depression and acceptance. Now I am in fascination–cobra hypnosis, newly apoplectic every day by the latest. I believe I have actually keened within recent memory. At this rate, i may have a flickering tic in my eye by sundown.” ~ Anne Lamott in a recent post-election Facebook post

As usual, author Anne Lamott writes what’s in my head only it sounds almost lyrical instead of the ALL CAPS RAGE AND DESPAIR that marinates inside me these days. Oh, and my eye tic has manifested as a pain in my right arm. No, not the heart attack kind of arm pain. It hurts the most when I undo my bra. Sorry, if that’s too much information from this nasty woman. My doctor, Web MD, says that this could indicate stress in the rotator cuff muscles. My symptoms started shortly after FBI Director James Comey released his now infamous letter to Congress regarding Hillary Clinton’s damn emails 10 days before the election. Coincidence?  I think not. Case closed.

Lamott also writes about stress eating during these troubling times. I have no doubt that Weight Watchers will be inundated with an influx of chubby liberals come January. Carbs are one of our sole/soul comforts these days. If it weren’t so unbelievably frightening, it would be funny. Lamott prefers Oreos and Cheerios. I feel for her because her options are limited. She’s been in recovery for over 30 years, so wine is not a viable option for her. By the way, did you know that Aldi’s carries some decent wine? What? A friend told me – just putting it out there.

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Limiting myself to just one glass a day.

I ran into a dear and much admired colleague right after the election. I was leaving a professional function as she was pulling into the parking lot. She put her window down and we lamented together about the results and she picked up a McDonald’s cheeseburger sitting on the passenger seat next to her, took a big bite and garbled, “Look, I’m stress eating!” She’s a very petite and trim woman which made the whole thing even more amusing to me.

I’m trying to practice good self-care so I’m pretty much in a news blackout, which I guess is not really that different from the actual campaign, right? There was so little news about policies and issues. It was Reality TV at its very worst and it helped elect the least qualified presidential candidate in the history of our great nation. We were punked. Bigly. Faux news is the new news. (I just got one of those shooting pains in my shoulder.)

So I’m under a TV blackout except for every liberal’s lifeline these days. Yes, on the eighth day, God created Netflix. And it was good. And ironically, the show saving me in this post-apocalyptic election world is one about a monarchy – The Crown. If you’re reading my blog, you’re most likely watching The Crown, too, but for those in the royal dark, the series is about the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s a fascinating behind the scenes look at her marriage to Price Phillip and her relationship with Prime Minister Winston Churchill. And it’s a glorious diversion from the reality of the Park Avenue president-elect only without as much gilded furniture.

the-crown

Who needs term limits?

I haven’t been able to give up social media but I’ve made my Facebook world a kinder, gentler place. And for the record, I think “unfriending” is a misnomer. We can be friends in REAL life and not be “friends” on Facebook because in real life, I might not ever know that you get your news from Breitbart or that you really think that all Muslims should be deported. Another irony – people are more their real selves behind a keyboard than in actual conversation. Social media is like HD TV – it makes all your warts and blemishes that much bigger.

And honestly, it makes it easier for me and my wife to worship with you at church if I don’t know that you supported a ticket that opposes our marriage. What I don’t know can’t hurt my heart. And spare me the “how can we ever find unity if we don’t talk about our differences” crap. Tell me what I should have said to a friend I have known since the 7th grade when she accused Michelle Obama of being a “race baiter” because she talked about the White House being built by slaves. There is no middle ground to find on scorched earth.

I haven’t slept through the night since the Cubs won the Word Series. Granted, that was a short night since the game didn’t end until after 1 AM. I’m not much for drugs but Tylenol PM has been my constant companion. But even with my version of the little blue pill, I still wake up at 2 AM and immediately start worrying about so many of the things I care about. Many – most actually – of the folks closest to me are feeling the same way and while often comforting, it can be an exhausting burden, too – trying to be present to their pain while holding my own.

My best friend from college is a chaplain in California at a large urban hospital. She is a woman and she is gay and she is Muslim. Damn, there goes my shoulder again. She’s struggling and she has to be available to everyone she encounters in her work – there can be no “others” in her day. She has observed that it is only white people who ask her if she’s okay – because she doesn’t seem “like herself”.  She’s come up with a brilliant response. She tells people that she is “soul sick”.  And there ain’t enough chicken soup in the world for this kind of sick.

I’ve been going to the movies – always a balm for me. I can highly recommend Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Fantasy is so superior to reality these days. And I just want to pinch Eddie Redmayne’s ginger cheek. Spoiler alert: Love really does trump hate in this movie.

But I made the mistake of going to Costco the other day. How can it be time for Christmas again already? The decorations made me feel disoriented – like going into a Christmas shop on the boardwalk when you’re at the beach in July. They seemed garish and out-of-place. Bell ringers are out now, too. I have plenty of valid issues regarding the Salvation Army so I’m never excited to hear those bells, but this year, the tone sounds almost ominous to me. It’s a tolling, not a ring.

A few days ago, my mourning changed to anger – white hot anger about what has happened in our country. My shift was not subtle. It came the moment I read who Trump had appointed as his chief strategist – Steve “Darkness is good” Bannon. Let’s be clear – the term “alt-right” should only ever be used with the word DELETE. Even Sarah Palin knew that if you put lipstick on a Nazi, it’s still a Nazi.

Yep. That was my tipping point. That day I signed up for the Women’s March on Washington – the Saturday following Not My President’s inauguration. Initially, I didn’t think I had it in me – to be in our nation’s capital at such a deplorable time. The last time I marched in Washington was 23 years ago for gay rights. That march changed my life in immeasurable ways. It made me feel empowered to live my life out loud. I hope this march empowers every woman, man and child there to go home and speak up for all of those that this new regime would diminish if given carte blanche. Hell, I might even burn my bra since I may not be able to clasp it anymore by then.

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Resistance, my friends.

Jonathan Capehart, a gay black journalist, had a great piece in the Washington Post last week about the palpable fear that many of us are experiencing post-election. A fear that some of our friends – mostly white, mostly male, mostly monied – don’t feel – the fear of being targeted under the new administration. Capehart sums it up here really well: “But here’s what our well-meaning friends, especially those who have not felt the sting of discrimination or even otherness, need to understand. President-elect Trump has made promises that represent a threat to real lives and livelihoods. Some are unconstitutional. All are immoral.”

So, yeah, we others are kind of worked up over all of this. But we still enjoy your pictures of puppies.

Truth be told, it’s all Hillary’s fault that I’m going to the march. Damn her. A week after the election she honored a long-standing speaking engagement at a celebration for the Children’s Defense Fund, a cause near and dear to her broken heart. And God bless her – she showed up looking like – well, me, a few days after the election – no make up, regular going to the grocery store hair and a weary looking face. Twitterverse went wild with commentary – someone saying Hillary had “no more fucks to give” and another speculating that she was raising a middle finger to patriarchy. Whatever, I’m still with her. And it wasn’t how she looked but what she said that kicked my sorry ass.

“I know this isn’t easy, I know that over the past week, a lot of people have asked themselves whether America is the country we thought it was. The divisions laid bare by this election run deep, but please listen to me when I say this. America is worth it. Our children are worth it. Believe in our country, fight for our values and never, ever give up.”

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Truth.

I don’t have super powers like Hillary but I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.

So in January, I will march but what about those damn holidays before us?

Pray for peace, people, everywhere.

And pass the cookies.

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

I’m still with her and our power’s turned on.

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Safety instructions

sully

 

“Brace, brace, brace.”

That phrase constitutes the critical dialogue in one of the many emotional scenes in the film Sully – the story of US Airways Flight 1549’s emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009. No spoiler alert needed, we know that all 155 passengers and crew on board survived that harrowing day in January and the incident came to be known as “The Miracle on the Hudson”.

The flight attendants called out that chilling command to passengers as the plane began its descent into the river. They kept repeating that refrain until impact in unison like holy words in a chant or prayer.

As I watched that dramatic scene unfold on screen, I became aware that the top of my shirt was wet – drenched from the steady stream of tears rolling down my face. I wasn’t even aware that I was crying but my body was apparently having a very visceral reaction to what I was seeing – the sheer power and beauty of humanity on display. Strangers helping strangers in the most dire of circumstances.

A quick aside – I have reserved a giant eye roll regarding Clint Eastwood since his asinine “empty chair” routine at the 2012 Republican Convention but damn, that old coot is still making great movies at 86.

Maybe the timing of seeing Sully was simply serendipitous for me because I was in desperate need of a good dose of humanity. I have been feeling the heaviness of the world in ways I can’t ever recall in my 60 years.

It has been a tough year for me personally, that’s true – losing my job in a maze of malevolence, searching for a new spiritual home after transitions at my church and just generally struggling with my place in the world.

The world – where do I begin? Syria, Orlando, Nice, Dallas, Charlotte, on and on. And this presidential election that has worn anyone with a semblance of a brain or a soul down to a nub. We live in a constant barrage of noise and vitriol.

Some days I feel like I’m walking around wearing that lead apron the dental hygienist puts on you when you’re having x-rays taken. I’m moving but the sound of my own heartbeat feels muted by the weight of it all.

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No words…

There are days I feel hopeless and then I am almost always miraculously saved by a connection with another passenger on this journey. Some of them I know – others are simply kind strangers.

Last weekend, my salvation came in some gloriously different ways. On Saturday evening, my dear wife and I attended Harvest of Hope, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Our good friend, Lori, a 20 year cancer survivor and her wife Sue, are two of the original organizers of this annual event. This year’s dinner was the 15th and final one. Lori is retiring next year and 15 seemed like a nice stopping point.

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My amazing friend, Lori – cancer survivor and chef extraordinaire.

About 150 people were at the dinner and near the end of the evening, all of the cancer survivors in attendance were asked to stand to be recognized. Now there’s a club none of us would choose to join. But as those 18 folks stood and everyone applauded, I suddenly felt that thin space between life and death. I thought about what those good souls and their families and loved ones had been through – the treatments, the pain and sickness, the fear and finally, the relief and peace.

And once again, I became aware of the tears running down my face. I thought about some of the people in my life that could no longer stand because of cancer – my parents and my friends, Regina and Kristel, who died earlier this year. Those survivors – most of them strangers to me – made me feel connected to the people I loved and lost.

Humanity.

“Cancer is an asshole.”

Those are the brilliant words of my friend, Jennifer, a young mother who is fighting breast cancer. She is a writer by trade and she is kicking cancer’s ass in her brilliant blog, Two Boobs, One Fight. Her words connect me to feelings I have had about life and death and everything in between. She has saved me on some of my heavy days with her courage and humor and yes, humanity.

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Read this blog!

On Sunday, my salvation came in the form of family. Not my family of origin but a family that treats me like family and best of all, makes me feel like family. My fairy god-daughter Ella turned five and we went to her birthday party in Raleigh. We were given fair warning by her mother, my friend Sarah, that there would be approximately 20 four and five-year olds and their siblings at the celebration. We were also promised that there would be plenty of prosecco on hand so we decided to take our chances.

Sarah’s family is large – a mom, a dad, an ex-husband, a boyfriend, three children, two sisters – one with twins – and their husbands. I fell in love with her kids years ago and I still pretty much swoon when they call me “Auntie Addy”.

I had not seen them in over a year and for the life of me even I can’t explain why. I’m just going to blame it on what Queen Elizabeth would call this annus horribillis. I was a little anxious that they would be a little distant around me – they’re 9, 7 and 5. My fears were quickly put to rest when Maddie, the oldest, raced down the stairs to squeeze us when we pulled up in front of their house.

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Sarah’s rules rule.

And then we were swarmed upon by Sarah’s Big Fat (a term of endearment, they are all skinny) Family. Her two sisters greeted me like my own sister – okay, they didn’t actually cry like my sister usually does – but they were so incredibly sweet and affectionate. Everyone was so damn happy to see us and I could no longer feel that apron on my chest. I felt happy. I felt connected.

The birthday party looked like a cross between a United Nations meeting – only with very short people – and a Benetton ad. There were white kids, black kids, Asian kids, Indian kids – all kinds of kids – and it was awesome. There was a jumpy house, a balloon guy, a piñata, temporary tattoos with glitter and best of all – very limited crying.

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Ella is crushing 5.

Ella didn’t open her presents until after all the guests had left and it was just family. God, I had forgotten how much I love that feeling – being in that intimate circle – belonging.

The birthday girl was incredibly thoughtful with her pile of loot – carefully opening the cards first (swoon again – I love a girl who appreciates a good card) and looking very pleased with every gift – especially the s’mores maker. Right before we left to go home, we happened to end up in the kitchen alone with her and she smiled and sort of shook her little head and said, “Wow, I got so many great stuffs.”

That’s how I felt about the day, too.

After the horrific terrorist attack in Nice this past July, author Anne Lamott (yes, her again) made a raw and sprawling post on her Facebook page that I have gone back to often. Here is just a portion of it:

Remember the guys in the Bible whose friend was paralyzed, but couldn’t get in close to see Jesus preach and heal, so they carried him on a cot, climbed the roof, and lowered him down for the healing? Can a few of you band together – just for today – and carry someone to the healing? To the zen-do? To a meeting? Help a neighbor who is going under, maybe band together to haul their junk to the dump? Shop for sales for a canned food drive at the local temple or mosque? How about three anonymous good deeds?

There is no healing in pretending this bizarre violent stuff is not going on, and that there is some cute bumper sticker silver lining. (It is fine if you believe this, but for the love of God, PLEASE keep it to yourself. It will just tense us all up.) What is true is that the world has always been this way, people have always been this way, grace always bats last, it just does – and finally, when all is said and done, and the dust settles, which it does, Love is sovereign here.

There’s a scene in Sully where Captain Sullenberger corrects one of the NTSB investigators who describes the event as a crash. Sully says adamantly, “It’s not a crash. It’s a forced water landing.” Even though the situation appeared to be totally out of his control, Sully knew exactly what he was doing – trying to get those passengers and crew to safety.

Maybe that’s what we’re called to do in these heavy times – to help each other avoid the crash and navigate a safe landing – to carry each other to the healing – whatever that looks like for each of us.

This is our common prayer.

Brace, brace, brace.

Amen.

healing

 

 

A work in progress

final first birthday

That’s me partying like it’s 1957.

I’m turning 60 later this month. There, I said it.

I know what you’re thinking. “Gee, you don’t look it.”

Work with me here.

The ever wise and wicked funny Anne Lamott wrote a marvelous Facebook post last year about turning 61. She said she thought she was only 47 and then she checked the paperwork. I get it. I don’t know how I got here so fast.

Most folks have a bit of angst about such a milestone birthday and the universe has certainly conspired to humble me as I approach the Big One. Funny, I can remember when 40 was the Big One. At least I think I can remember.

Anyway, my year began with losing my job as the leader of a local AIDS service organization. Now that will do wonders for your self-esteem, especially if you are kicked to the curb as ungracefully as I was. After 11 years of heartfelt service, my office was packed up for me and delivered to my home in four FedEx boxes. Ouch.

toy box

I’ve always favored thinking outside the box.

My dear wife has a charming saying she uses in delicate situations: “Now that will hurt your feelings.” That about covers it.

Along with my job, I also temporarily lost faith in what I always thought I knew about loyalty and integrity. That was a terribly distasteful feeling but I’m grateful for the many good and kind people who reached out to remind me that these virtues are still alive and well.

I’m not sure I ever thought much about turning 60 but when I did, I guess I assumed I’d be at the peak of my career, not starting a new one. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. You see, I’ve always been a bit of a late bloomer. I was 26 before I got my ears pierced, 48 before I got my first tattoo (yes, I have more than one) and 57 before I was a bride. Oh, and I was in my mid-thirties before I came out. True story, but when I did come out, I came out loud and proud.

I guess you could say that I’m the slow and steady type and I think that served me well for a very long time but there’s no getting around the reality that I feel the meter running these days. I lost two friends in January – both to cancer – and one of them was only 54. And my oldest friend on earth – we met in the 4th grade – survived a brutal battle with Stage IV tongue cancer before she turned 60 in April.

You can eye-roll a cliché like “Life is not a dress rehearsal” but it’s true. It’s show time and I plan on making the most of my second act. And now that my bleak career midwinter is behind me, most days I’m very excited about what’s next and on my very best days, I’m even grateful for this opportunity to reinvent myself at such a seasoned age.

A handful of my friends have already retired or are counting down the days but an early retirement was never in the cards for me – not too many careers in non-profit afford you that luxury. And the truth is that I don’t want to retire. Maybe if I won the lottery (which I never play) I suppose I would not work and move to the coast of Maine where I would write the next great American novel. Okay, maybe I have thought about it a few times. (Note to self: Buy lottery ticket.)

One of my favorite books, which was turned into a surprisingly good movie, is The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. It’s about a rather sullen man who writes travel guides for reluctant business travelers. Imagine Rick Steves not enjoying travel and writing his guidebooks. It’s a delightful premise for a story.accidental tourist no 2

I think I’ve had an accidental career – actually a few of them – and while I very much enjoyed each of them, I’ve never been particularly strategic with my choices. My first career was in retail management as a buyer and then division manager for a department store chain. This was when the economy was booming and the mall was the hub of civilization. “Going to the mall” was pretty much a part of everyone’s weekend vernacular. Yes, kids, there really was a time when people shopped at the mall, in the dark ages before Amazon Prime.

I loved the energy of retail – every day was different. And I loved the seasons, most especially Christmas. You can’t be in retail and survive it if you don’t get excited about the holiday season. I especially enjoyed assisting the husbands who came in on Christmas Eve looking like a deer in the headlights. You could smell the fear – they needed a gift for their wife and the clock was ticking. They were easy prey for an overpriced sale. And they were clueless. Many of them didn’t even know what size their wife wore and they always asked with desperation, “She can exchange this if she doesn’t like it, right?”

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Retail could be a real circus during the holidays.

There are so many women out there who have me to thank for the upgrade on their Christmas gifts in the eighties. You’re welcome.

My two stores were in Charlottesville, VA – still the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived – and I got to know a lot of my customers personally. It may sound a little Lake Wobegonish but it felt really good when Mrs. Shifflett came in to buy a dress for her daughter’s wedding and asked me for help. (Oh, you cynics. I don’t eat meat, either, but I know a good burger when I see one.)

I feel like I got to work in the Golden Age of Retail and I was fortunate when the fall came to be able to transition to a new career in fundraising. A friend of mine from retail was working for the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) in Washington, DC and told me about a brand new position in planned giving. I had no idea what that even meant but I was lucky that their program was just getting off the ground and my track record as a good salesperson was enough to get me in the door.

To my utter amazement, I got the job and thoroughly enjoyed my eight years on staff there. PVA was the first time I was out at work and I was received incredibly warmly by the veterans’ community. Those guys loved me and I loved them back. God, they were funny and disarmingly optimistic. And they drank like the sailors many of them had been.

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Veterans Day, Arlington National Cemetery, circa 1996. So proud to be an American.

I learned so much –  about science and heart – getting to know so many wonderful people in the spinal cord injured community and I can tell you that not a day goes by that I don’t have a moment where I am intentionally grateful for my mobility. That was PVA’s gift to me.

Those good folks also kindled my patriotism in ways that have remained with me over the years. I think of my time there every Veterans Day – on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

If my time at PVA taught me about sacrifice and courage, my time at my last job taught me a lot about stigma and poverty and how they are the natural enemies of HIV prevention. My position also gave me a front row seat to magnificent acts of generosity and compassion – some large ones that came with checks with lots of zeros and some small ones that came in cases of green beans from Costco. All of them mattered.

thp good times

Fighting the good fight at my last job.

It is an extraordinary thing to spend your work days with passionate people who share a vision and  my time there broke my heart wide open in remarkable ways that will inform the rest of my life. And it has ruined me for ever just working for a paycheck.

Nope, I need a side order of a mission statement, even if it’s just one of my own making.

The upside to a forced sabbatical has been the luxury of time to do a lot of pondering about my past and my future. I’ve thought a lot about my parents. Certainly losing them both just a few months apart from each other in my mid-forties was the watershed event of my life. Their deaths, or rather how I handled their deaths, changed the course of my life.

I came across a line in a book recently that stood me still. One of the characters, who has lost a son, explains that he and his wife will often not speak to each other for hours at a time because, “We’ve learned that grief can sometimes get loud, and when it does, we try not to speak over it.” I know now that I tried to escape the deafening din of my own grief in destructive ways and it cost me a great deal. I deeply hurt a few of the people who I held most dear and that can never be undone. And, of course, I hurt myself in ways that only I can fully know.

This has led me to thinking a lot about regrets and for the record, I don’t really buy it when people say they don’t have any. It’s an arrogant reflection on life. I have 1,001 small ones – that I didn’t learn to play the piano, the tragic dress I wore to my senior prom (picture Laura Ingalls in polyester organza) and my early insistence that John Edwards was not a cheater.

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Me and my high school doppelgänger, 1973.

But it’s the big ones that I stumble through like thickets at 2:00 AM. I’m not ready for a full confession on those but I will say that I regret saying no more than I regret saying yes. I need to remember this.

I was actually feeling pretty good about myself at 60 until I listened to Bill Clinton’s 42 minute recitation of Hillary’s resume at the Democratic National Convention last week. As I brushed my teeth before going to bed that night, I was afraid to look in the mirror for fear of seeing the reflection of a sloth. Oh well, I still believe in a place called Hope.

final sloth

That’s me in the mirror. #ImWithHer

I’ll be in California for my actual birthday visiting my younger (damn her) sister. I couldn’t imagine not celebrating this birthday with her. I love her beyond measure and no one knows me as well and deeply as she does. We share an emotional GPS that alerts us when the other is off course in any way. It is an indomitable connection that has kept me tethered to this world in my darkest storms.

SISTERS final

Sisters, Sisters. There were never such devoted sisters.

My sister is known for her extravagance and I’m a little nervous about what she might pull out for this celebration. Sissy, if you’re reading this now, I was just kidding about the Tom Ford sunglasses. Sort of.

I didn’t want a big party. I never want a big party. And I most certainly NEVER want a surprise party. And so I will have a sushi (my fav) dinner out with my wife and my sister. The icing on my birthday cake is that my best friend from college will join us the weekend before my birthday for some revelry. She turned 60 in June and is anxious to have me join her in this new bracket so I’m approaching it like signing up for a very exclusive wine club.

dinner party

I’ve always preferred the more intimate dinner party.

She just sent me the loveliest email that might just be my wish when I blow out my candles. She wrote, “I’m hoping our time might have a magic slow quality to it.” I’m hoping the rest of my life has this quality.

It makes me happy when I just think about looking at those three beautiful faces all in one place for a few precious days.

addy and cj

Me and my best friend from college before hair products were invented, circa 1981.

Sometimes I imagine a soundtrack for my life when I’m processing things in my head.Who needs Pokemon Go when you have an overactive imagination? Lately, I’ve been hearing this Iris Dement song – My Life.  

My life, it’s half the way traveled

And still I have not found my way out of this night

My life, it’s tangled in wishes

And so many things that just never turned out right 

But I gave joy to my mother and I made my lover smile

And I can give comfort to my friends when they’re hurting

And I can make it seem better for a while 

It is an achingly beautiful song and if you ask me, it’s a pretty damn good resume, too.

 

final jaddy

I’m embracing 60 with joy.

 

(All photos property of Addison Ore)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rendezvous with grace

tickets

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.

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Anne Lamott. I love this face. Illustration by Jillian Yamaki, The New York Times.

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.

bird by bird

My well-worn copy.

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.)

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Be kind to your writer friends.

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.

oprah

Oprah loves Anne, too.

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.

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This became my book of uncommon prayer.

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.”

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When Addy met Anne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Hear the People Sing?

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Faces of kind strangers – that’s where my mind went racing after I learned of the horrible attacks on Paris last Friday.

I immediately thought of the robust older woman behind the Metro ticket window who reminded us of a character from The Triplets of Belleville and teased us about our spotty French as she helped us figure out our route to Versailles; the handsome young waiter who cheerfully and patiently translated an entire menu into English for us; the two little girls gleefully running around on a perfect Saturday in the Tuileries Garden; and the owner of the patisserie who smiled sweetly and playfully told us that she would speak English to us if we spoke French to her.

So many kind faces under attack.

Yes, yes, all lives matter but I have to be quite honest, this feels more personal to me than some of the other acts of terrorism across the world. Just last week I posted about my magical trip to Paris six weeks ago. It was my valentine to the City of Light. It was a bright and joyful post written before 129 faces were brutally erased. I could not write that post today.

I was grateful on Friday evening that my wife and I had made plans earlier in the week for a movie and dinner with dear friends. Otherwise, I’m sure we would have been glued to the television all evening. As it was, when our movie ended I checked my phone for an update on the situation and was so touched to have a handful of text messages from family and friends telling me that they were thinking of us and were grateful that we were home and safe.

I couldn’t help but wonder if those faces that had touched us were home safe, too. I felt afraid for them and heartbroken that their beautiful city had been attacked.

These global tragedies seem to bring out the best and the worst on Facebook. I find comfort in mass mourning on a public forum – like an ancient wailing wall. “Pray for Paris” was the overwhelming trending message on all social media Friday night.

peace for paris

This Instagram post went viral after the attacks on Paris.

And then, of course, before the blood stains were dry, came the blaming for the attacks. Pick one, pick two – Obama, Bush, Cheney, religion, Muslims, always the Muslims.

Why are we so afraid of intentional silence? Why can’t we be comfortable creating a space to ask ourselves some hard questions before spewing out empty answers?

I suppose it is fear because, deep down, we know we don’t have the answers.

I know I found a balm, as I so often do, in the words of others much wiser than me.

Saturday morning, I saw the author Anne Lamott’s post pop up in my feed. I felt better before I even read a word of it. If you’ve never read her stuff, leave this post and go straight to Amazon to download one of her books. I mean it. Go. You will thank me later.

On Facebook she writes in a rambling and raw stream of consciousness that makes you feel like she’s drinking coffee with you at your kitchen table in her bathrobe. Here’s an excerpt from her post on Saturday:

We’re at the beginning of human and personal evolution. Whole parts of the world don’t even think women are people.

So after an appropriate time of being stunned, in despair, we show up. Maybe we ask God for help. We do the next right thing. We buy or cook a bunch of food for the local homeless. We return phone calls, library books, smiles. We make eye contact with others, and we go to the market and flirt with old or scary unusual people who seem lonely. This is a blessed sacrament. Tom Weston taught me decades ago that in the face of human tragedy, we go around the neighborhood and pick up litter, even though there will be more tomorrow. It is another blessed sacraments. We take the action and the insight will follow: that we are basically powerless, but we are not helpless.

I have no answers but know one last thing that is true: More will be revealed. And that what is true is that all is change. Things are much wilder, weirder, richer, and more profound than I am comfortable with. The paradox is that in the reality of this, we discover that in the smallest moments of amazement, at our own crabby stamina, at kindness, to lonely people who worry us, and attention, at weeping willow turning from green to gold to red, and amazement, we will be saved.

Amen.

I have been deeply moved and inspired by the resilience of the French people, so brave and adamant in vowing to retain their way of life, their precious joie de vivre. Yesterday, Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine, responded to the attacks with a provocative cover of a bullet-ridden man drinking a glass of champagne. The cover translates from the French: “They have weapons. Fuck them. We have champagne.”

charlie hebdo

This is not to imply that their reaction is at all cavalier. They are in deep mourning and carrying a grief that cannot be contained in the graves of the dead.

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Love > Terror

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