Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, Anne Lamott. New York: Riverhead, 2018.
Summary: A series of “notes” or essays on hope, especially amid disturbing times.
That’s how this collection of essays in which Lamott sums up why she lives with hope in apocalyptic times. She wrote this before COVID, George Floyd, the 2020 elections and their aftermath, and the invasion of Ukraine and a world staring at the possibility of World War Three, which is almost unthinkable. How did she know.
In “Prelude” Lamott describes this book as being written for her grandson and niece as almost everything she knows that might help. Then in typical Lamott style, she diverts and says that there are really only two things she knows–that she is mightily tempted to jump off of rooftops and out of speeding cars and that she has seen miracles.
She writes of the paradox of truth and how it affords hope when you hit bottom because there is something else, that bottom is only one side of the paradox. We really can’t change others or save them–it is an inside job. She writes, “Nor did I know about grace, that it meets you exactly where you are, at your most pathetic and hopeless, and it loads you into its wheelbarrow and then tips you out somewhere else in ever so slightly better shape.” There really is no fix in life, only forgiveness. We especially can’t change families–only live with them and forgive. Most things will work if we unplug them–even us. We need to surrender the impulse to return hate with hate. Empathy awakens us to how like we are to what we are tempted to hate. She derides diets that end with us gaining weight, suggesting kindness toward ourselves might be better.
There is probably little better writing advice than she gives a bunch of first graders, which was really writing one bad page after another until they became a book. She thinks that bitter chocolate is only good to balance wobbly chair legs and that we do better to carry Kisses in our backpacks to give away and make friends. She writes about death and accompanying the dying, comparing our lives to hen and chicks, with the belly button center that grows outward in glossy green leaves that eventually thin, fade, fall off and feed the soil. Contemplating death makes life richer.
One of the most moving chapter narrates the life of Kelly, an atheist friend who was in AA with her, and then out because she didn’t like the God part, her downward decline after a divorce and the death of her dog, their shared love of Survivor and the last, alcohol-ridden years where Anne hoped God would break through because nothing else could, and the final rest she found when she and a friend who was her last joy killed themselves together. She narrates the tragic fortress of alcoholism that led to her friend’s death when God came in the form of welcome and a cup of tea at an AA meeting.
She concludes with coming back to hope. No sweetness and sentimentality. We confront the terribleness of things, and yet glimpse the wonders of the world, the hush of a forest, and still have the sense that in the end, it will be well.
Lamott has this uncanny ability to puncture our pretensions and our certainties without leaving us bereft. In this context, of finding hope in the face of apocalypse, it comes down to the idea that there is always something beyond bad, that the story doesn’t end that way. Whatever we ground that in–God or intuition–it’s probably the best we have to hang onto in these days.