Do Good Anyway and Always

Anne Lammott acknowledges truth about life and ourselves that isn’t easy to swallow.


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Lamott brings honesty, humor, and self-deprecation to her latest book.

Photo by Waldemar Zboralski (CC)

A good book is one that three pages in, you’re already thinking, “I’ve got my money’s worth.” Anne Lamott’s slim volume of essays advising us and pledging to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly, thrusts “radical kindness” into what she calls her and our “Arrogance R Us” attitude. In the face of contemporary society’s unfriendly-to-humility outlook, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy promotes fairytale foolishness—say “Hallelujah” to life’s big mess. She pulls off the flagrant mercy message magnificently with signature honesty and humor, self-deprecating confession, and lucid language.

Expectedly, with Lamott, if there’s radical love, there’s also radical candor. Her alcoholism, she writes, was an elevator going down and a disease that wanted her dead, “but would settle for getting me drunk.” A “snarky public comment” she made caused a painful break with her son that will likely need mending. And even sober people—herself first in line as a recovering alcoholic—subject one another to arrogance, greed, and prejudice. But Lamott argues there is a way to rise above the chaos in “accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway” and having “belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer.”

 

Bible stories and teachings of the world’s spiritual leaders are used with great effect to illuminate the complexities of human existence—wanting to do good but acting bad; wishing to be “sunny” but instead harboring angry, vengeful, internal storms; acting horrid toward people we love most, and more. Leave it to Lamott to make sense of the Prodigal Son, the Psalms’ love-despite-all missives, an Indian teacher’s not minding what happens that is a large leap beyond trendy “mindfulness.” Even Paul, who Lamott writes was “annoying, sexist, stuffy, and theoretical” and “cranky, judgmental, and self-righteous,” knew darkness and struggle and recognized “the willingness to have the willingness ...” to do and behave better than our actual selves.

As in previous books—Lamott is prolific—she acknowledges truth about life and ourselves that isn’t easy to swallow. Focus on mustard seed-sized kindness, she suggests, like the tiny paper cup of water brought to her by a salesgirl that revived her belief in goodness and mercy.

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott (Riverhead Books, April 2017, 190 pp., $20)

 

This report appears in the July edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

 

Published online on July 7, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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