Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott-When an atheist relative told me that this book sent her into the ugly cry on the treadmill at her gym, I figured it was worth checking out, and I'm so glad I did. I loved this book! I'm not big on religion; I don't want to be preached to, I don't want to hear about how I need to be saved and how everyone else in the world needs to be saved, I don't want to hear about how much better you are than me because you've been saved and about how now that you have Jesus in your life He will take care of everything and you never have to worry about anything ever again and how anybody who isn't on this path is Screwed.
What I do want to hear about is how religion or faith or spirituality has inspired someone, given her strength, caused her to see beauty in the world that she otherwise might not have seen, encouraged her to find a grace within herself that she didn't know was there, you know, the good stuff. Anne Lamott delivers all of this, and she's hilarious to boot. While she does have a pretty unshakeable faith, she also has plenty of, "You've GOT to be kidding me!" discussions with the Lord, which I found refreshing. I think that was what appealed to me the most about this book, the fact that it was written by someone who is not perfect in her relationship with God and does not claim to be. Absolute, unquestioning faith in something that you can't prove exists is tricky, even for the most sincere.
One of my favorite examples of this is when she is trying to explain the significance of Ash Wednesday to her child, Sam. She has turned off the TV and explained that if he wanted to draw or play with some of his other toys that would be fine, but just for today, in observance of Ash Wednesday, they were not going to watch TV. A few minutes later, he has turned the TV back on and Alvin and the Chipmunks are singing "Achy Breaky Heart," and Lamott LOSES IT. Personally, I think having to listen to Alvin and the Chipmunks sing "Achy Breaky Heart" is a totally justifiable reason to lose one's mind, but I think this had more to do with Sam's blatant disregard of the somber speech she had just made about the importance of Ash Wednesday. Anyway, she proceed to shout, cuss, and then she
"grabbed him by his pipecleaner arm and jerked him in the direction of his room, where he spent the next ten minutes crying bitter tears.
It's so awful, attacking your child. It is the worst thing I know, to shout loudly at this fifty-pound being with his huge trusting brown eyes. It's like bitch-slapping E.T." (p. 93)
I've read that passage several times, and it cracks me up every time. Maybe that just means I'm warped. I don't know.
I've mentioned recently that I've noticed a lot of coincidences involving the books I'm reading and my real life activities. I was reading this book on our recent vacation in Oregon, which began with an ill-fated trip to Vegas, a drive over to L.A., and then a drive from L.A. up to Portland during which we stopped to check out many of the redwood forests and groves along the way.
(Me sitting next to the Founders' Tree in Humboldt Redwoods State Park)
For those of you who have never seen a redwood, they are amazing. For those of you who have, you know. They're so huge and stately and...and...I don't even know how to describe them. (However, Bob Neubauer did a pretty good job of it, so I'll let you read his article here.) For me, they're comforting and feel like home. I've always liked evergreen forests, and living in Hawaii has reinforced that love. As beautiful as the tropical forests (jungles? I'm not really sure what the proper term is here) are, they're messy. Evergreen forests are always neat and orderly and covered with that soft, springy, uniform covering of needles, not a disorderly mess of decaying leaves under which there could be hiding any number of creepy crawlies or decaying fruit. (Stick with me here; this does eventually tie back in to the book). They feel serene and tidy. Perhaps this appeals to me because I tend to be the exact opposite of that-our house is a cluttery mess. As much as we try to keep it up, by the end of each week, there is just clutter everywhere. I don't really know how it happens. I'm pretty sure it might involve gnomes. Anyway, evergreen forests are already tidy; you don't feel like you have to straighten anything up, so you can just be and relax. A redwood forest only amplifies this. Not only is it tidy and calm and serene, but the trees have been there for longer than we can comprehend and (hopefully) will continue to be there, standing guard, sentry-like, providing a calm, secure, safe retreat from the rest of the world for as long as there is still some good in the world.
All of this is to say that in Lamott's book, she talks a lot about the northern California area (through which we had just driven!). She also talks about a health scare involving her son. After an extremely nerve-wracking wait, she finally receives some good news on this front and calls her friend in order to share the news. His response: "Baby? Sometimes deliverance is as cool as the air in a redwood grove."
Of course, this was cool for me because I was like, "Hey, we were just in a bunch of redwood groves!" but it was more than that. It was a reminder of how lucky we have been to experience things like that. I realize there are probably millions of people each year who visit the redwood forests and there are people who live with redwoods in their back yards, so it's not like we are an elite group or anything, but that doesn't make the experience any less special. Also, there are a lot of people who have never found themselves surrounded by redwoods and probably never will, and so in that regard, I do feel lucky to have had that experience.
So, long story short, I would totally recommend this book. It's funny and uplifting and honest and heartfelt and just an all-around good read.