Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage, Anne Lamott. New York: Riverhead Books, 2021.
Summary: An exploration of the values that sustain us when we see a world as well as our own bodies falling apart.
Anne Lamott wrote this in the first year of the pandemic amid illness, lockdown, and death, reports on the dire consequences of a rapidly warming planet and a presidential election fraught with conflict. And she writes of being newly married, three days after she signed up for Medicare. The book evidences a consciousness of both bodies and the world falling apart. Internally as well as physically, she seems more aware than ever how messed up we are, both by the complicated histories of our families and our own lousy choices.
A predominant message of this book is “that love is sovereign here, and that the hardest work we do is self-love and forgiveness.” We try to pretend we are better than we are, only to fall flat on our faces, as Lamott describes during the time she struggled with alcoholism, sprawled on a cliff ledge after having blacked out, with a battered toenail and all muddy. If anything as we get older, we have a diminished capacity to keep up the façade.
Along the way, we listen to her as she describes the awakening to the challenge of living with another person with all their foibles, trying to teach Sunday school to a bunch of kids who are more concerned about when is the snack, who think that the passage in Exodus about seeing God’s back is about seeing his butt, and the challenges of a new cat in the house. She explores the strangeness and difficulty of repentance, the growth of forgiveness in us like the growth of a nautilus shell, her alarm at swallowing pills meant for her dog, and enduring a night of people telling the stories, droning on and on.
Somehow, she maintains hope that in the end, all will be well with the climate, and with us. She believes we’ve risen to other occasions and will to this. I think Lamott’s gift is self-deprecating honesty, grown even more acute as she gets older that eventuates in both forgiveness and recognition of the moments of grace. At times one feels that her efforts to share wisdom end up as platitudes like “love is the gas station and the fuel.” Then, on the same page you encounter the staggering insight that as messed up as we are “we are loved out of all sense and proportion.” Perhaps in the end, that is what makes all the difference between hope and despair. Platitudinous or profound, one has the sense that Anne Lamott stumbles day by day toward that love and toward that hope (and she really doesn’t care how it sounds).
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