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What I Know about Life, Death and Everything in Between

By Anne Lamott on Saturday April 2nd, 2016

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A 61 year old woman decided to write down everything she knows

Emerson said that the happiest person on earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot, and look up.

I am going to be 61 years old in 48 hours. Wow. I thought i was only forty-seven, but looking over the paperwork, I see that I was born in 1954. My inside self does not have an age, although can’t help mentioning as an aside that it might have been useful had I not followed the Skin Care rules of the sixties, i.e. to get as much sun as possible, while slathered in baby oil. (My sober friend Paul O said, at eighty, that he felt like a young man who had something wrong with him). Anyway, I thought I might take the opportunity to write down every single thing I know, as of today.

Alt text hereSkin Care rules of the sixties

15 Good Things to Know

1. All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it’s filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.

2. Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

3. There is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you are waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve, or date it. This is the most horrible truth.

Alt text hereEverything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you

4. Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to their outsides. Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them, or get any of them sober. But radical self-care is quantum, and radiates out into the atmosphere, like a little fresh air. It is a huge gift to the world. When people respond by saying, “Well, isn’t she full of herself,” smile obliquely, like Mona Lisa, and make both of you a nice cup of tea.

5. Chocolate with 70% cacao is not actually a food. It’s best use is as bait in snake traps.

6. Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.

Alt text hereWrite your truth, your version of things, in your voice

7. Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and sometimes nearly-evil men I have known were all writers who’d had bestsellers. Yet, it is also a miracle to get your work published (see #1.). Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesey holes. It won’t, it can’t. But writing can. So can singing.

8. Families: hard, hard, hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. (See #1 again.) At family gatherings where you suddenly feel homicidal or suicidal, remember that in half of all cases, it’s a miracle that this annoying person even lived. Earth is Forgiveness School. You might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants. When Blake said that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love, he knew that your family would be an intimate part of this, even as you want to run screaming for your cute little life. But that you are up to it. You can do it, Cinderella. You will be amazed.

9. Food: try to do a little better.

Alt text hereTricks to doing better with food

10. Grace: Spiritual WD-40. Water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Dick Cheney and me exactly as much as He or She loves your grandchild. Go figure. The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and our world. To summon grace, say, “Help!” And then buckle up. Grace won’t look like Casper the Friendly Ghost; but the phone will ring, or the mail will come, and then against all odds, you will get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated holiness, even if you are sick of me saying it.

11. God: Goodness, Love energy, the Divine, a loving animating intelligence, the Cosmic Muffin. You will worship and serve something, so like St. Bob said, you gotta choose. You can play on our side, or Bill Maher’s and Franklin Graham’s. Emerson said that the happiest person on earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot, and look up. My pastor says you can trap bees on the floor of a Mason jar without a lid, because they don’t look up. If they did, they could fly to freedom.

12. Faith: Paul Tillich said the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. If I could say one thing to our little Tea Party friends, it would be this. Fundamentalism, in all its forms, is 90% of the reason the world is so terrifying. 3% is the existence of snakes. The love of our incredible dogs and cats is the closest most of us will come, on this side of eternity, to knowing the direct love of God; although cats can be so bitter, which is not the god part: the crazy Love is. Also, “Figure it out” is not a good slogan.

Alt text hereThe Godly love of our incredible dogs

13. Jesus: Jesus would have even loved horrible, mealy-mouth self-obsessed you, as if you were the only person on earth. But He would hope that you would perhaps pull yourself together just the tiniest, tiniest bit–maybe have a little something to eat, and a nap.

14. Exercise: If you want to have a good life after you have grown a little less young, you must walk almost every day. There is no way around this. If you are in a wheelchair, you must do chair exercises. Every single doctor on earth will tell you this, so don’t go by what I say.

15. Death: wow. So f-ing hard to bear, when the few people you cannot live without die. You will never get over these losses, and are not supposed to. We Christians like to think death is a major change of address, but in any case, the person will live fully again in your heart, at some point, and make you smile at the MOST inappropriate times. But their absence will also be a lifelong nightmare of homesickness for you. All truth is a paradox. Grief, friends, time and tears will heal you. Tears will bathe and baptize and hydrate you and the ground on which you walk. The first thing God says to Moses is, “Take off your shoes.” We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know.

Alt text hereTears will bathe and baptize and hydrate you and the ground on which you walk

That’s It

I think that’s it, everything I know. I wish I had shoe-horned in what E.L. Doctorow said about writing: “It’s like driving at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little aways ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.” I love that, because it’s true about everything we try. I wish I had slipped in what Ram Dass said, that when all is said and done, we’re just all walking each other home. Oh, well, another time. God bless you all good.

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Words By Anne Lamott

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5 Responses to What I Know about Life, Death and Everything in Between

  1. Thank you for a morning chuckle of appreciation. Approx. 20 years on from her I love her approach and I know there is a bit more to come.

  2. Point 15, the best reason to not be a Christian! I much prefer the Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu versions of death. Everything is in flux, yin – yang – yin etc…. Life is yang (action) going back to yin (spirit) and this repeats endlessly. Birth is the same as death, a transition nothing more. Doesn’t nature show us the same? Look at water, starting as a raindrop and ending up in the ocean, just to be taken up again by the sun and falling as a raindrop, all an endless cycle.

  3. So the lesson in this pathetic article is that the author has learned nothing of value…the soul sucking cynicism, the smug superiority over others “our little tea party friends”, the certainty of the truth of one’s political opinions, the lack of grace, lack of humility, pretend Christianity and belief in disordered leftist philosophy in running the lives of others are all examples which show nothing has been learned. No wonder the author admits to being screwed up in the head and holds the belief that all others are equally as screwed up. Amazingly Dick’ Cheney is her example of the worst of souls still loved by god….not to mention that somehow the tea party is an example of religious fundamentalism which is so problematic in the world. This was nothing more than self loathing, miserable promotion of the same old sorry, angry leftist philosophy of disorder….really too bad. Oh well…off to yoga and happiness now

  4. Your article made sense, not too heavy and I enjoyed reading it. I have no opinion on the subject matter which is mindboggling to myself. I have been experiencing all of my senses to the fullest extent and physical changes have been steadly occurring. What I find most thrilling and lonely is my new ability to ‘understand’ laws of nature absent higher learning in those areas which I have zero authority. I hope all that you say are true. At certain times, when everything around me is beautiful, livable, peaceful and hardly anybody is around except for our puppy and cats, I think I am elsewhere but utilizing the physical structure as I have always known them. But everything is brighter, cheerful and ‘good.’ Food even tastes the way it used to. Moreover, I am completely at ease being my younger self as a child…singing made up songs, using strange words even I do not understand and of course, dancing and being a four-year old. If this is afterlife, I welcome it. But I cannot be here without my beautiful husband and our puppy. And if this is afterlife and I feel so content just being, wouldn’t I want my troubled son sharing this gloriousness together?

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