by Anne Lamott
Riverhead Books, 2014 286 pages
REVIEWED BY SHELBY ETHERIDGE
“I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish,” Anne Lamott writes of “her enemy,” another mom in her son’s class who is constantly “trying to help” Lamott with her son’s reading and behavioral skills. With her trademark irreverence, Lamott never fails to make me smile and cut right to the core of our human frailties and failings.
In “Small Victories,” Lamott combines several essays from previous books with new work. In “Forgiven,” the story about Lamott’s dealings with “her enemy,” she eventually comes to a place where she can see the heart of her fellow mom’s actions and her own insecurities and anxiety that were forcing her to view the woman in an angry way. “She was the one who seemed to have already forgiven me for writing a book in which I trashed her political beliefs; like God and certain parents do, forgiven me almost before I’d even done anything that I needed to be forgiven for. It’s like the faucets are already flowing before you even hold out your cup to filled.”
Lamott’s book is rife with beautifully written stories illustrating everything from grace, Ash Wednesday, dying friends, to dog ownership. All of her stories are honest and hopeful; as humans we’re on a path that is rocky, full of roots that are ready to trip us up, a path that seems downright impassable sometimes. One of my favorite stories was about one of those common human experiences that has confounded us all up at some point: dating.
“Heroes come in all circumstances and ages. The prophet tells us ‘your old will have visions; your young will dream dreams.’ Elderly women in a retirement community in Mill Valley protested the war in Iraq on a busy thoroughfare with placards every Friday for years. A man I know of twenty-two, halfway to a medical degree, is pursuing ballet dreams in New York City. Some people my age — extreme middle age — train for marathons, or paddle down the Amazon, or skydive or adopt. They publish for the first time. Me? I may have done the most heroic thing of all. I went on match.com for a year.” Lamott doesn’t come out of the year with an engagement ring, a soulmate or even a relationship, as far as we can tell. But she ends the story with hope: “I have two weeks left till membership expires. Anything could happen. God is such a show-off, and I never give up on my dreams.”
In her final entry in the book, “Market Street,” Lamott talks about starting over. “Saint Augustine said that you have to start your relationship with God all over from the beginning, every day. Yesterday’s faith does not wait for you like a dog with your slippers and the morning paper in its mouth. You seek it, and in seeking it, you find it.”
Like so many of us, Lamott is a seeker. A person on a journey of faith, searching for God and grace in the world. Her stories resonate with all of us who find ourselves falling and getting back up on the way.
SHELBY ETHERIDGE is the associate pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, Maryland.