Probably most of us hate COVID-19. But when it comes to identifying the reasons why, Anne Lamott can condense them into a few very well chosen words. In this season of poorly chosen words – face masks represent “a culture of silence, slavery, and social death,” or carefully chosen no-words, if you watched the Amy Coney Barrett hearings – Lamott’s words have the effect of a lemon verbena air spray.
“I miss the recognizable world,” she says. “the casual warmth of the old world. I used to hug and kiss everyone, and you can’t hug and kiss anyone when you’re standing in your little circle. I miss hugging and kissing everyone. It was so carbonating, and uplifting.”
Maybe that’s it? We are all just finally uncarbonated.
“I miss skin,” Lamott says. “People’s necks to burrow in. I miss people.” May we all please have someone’s neck to burrow into soon.
I first met Anne Lamott when she was leading a writers workshop at Book Passage in Marin in 1993, finishing up work on Bird by Bird, arguably the first book to propel her toward becoming a Household Name writer beloved by uncounted millions. But this was pre-fame. I’d been a newspaper & magazine writer forever. My new, Final husband The Great Encourager brought a small ad into the kitchen one night and said, “You ought to try fiction. This workshop could help. And you’ll love Annie.” Which was an understatement.
“I miss the beloved community of my church,” Lamott says. Many of us have beloved communities – faith communities, book groups, yoga classes, those places where we burrowed into someone’s neck, or touched someone’s hand as we settled in. If we are lucky we have a bunch of them. But they’ve all gone virtual and we can’t reach out and touch anyone.
Lamott and I put our faith communities at the top of the list of beloveds: mine for fairly traditional, progressive, urban Calvary Presbyterian in San Francisco, hers for much smaller St Andrew Presbyterian in Marin – a remarkable assemblage of God’s people for which this writer cannot find an adequate descriptor so you’ll just have to follow the link. Several times in past years we’ve done fundraisers for St Andrew at Calvary, which have been highlights of my performance career. (Essentially, I say, “Hello, Annie. What about . . .” and she picks it up, and 30 minutes later we get a standing ovation.) Recently St Andrew was doing a little budget-boosting with a pop-up marketplace of Black Lives Matter T-shirts and totes, and I had a brilliant idea about promoting that; but like most of my brilliant ideas it was too shrimpy and too late. If you’d like to send a contribution now, though, that’ll be fine. There’s a donate button on the website.
But if you’re missing all of the same things? Is there no hope? Anyone who knows Anne Lamott knows there is hope. And joy abundant, light to overcome the darkness.
“We’re doing what we can with what still works,” Lamott says. “I am so excited to see people I know even with their masks on. You do the litany: ‘Is everybody okay? Are you voting in person?’ There is a lot of gentleness. I study this. People let other people go first, first in line; people are bringing their better selves to the arena.”
“Grace,” she adds, “is like letting other people go first.” So these are some of the things Lamott loves, things that bring joy despite everything COVID has thrown at us:
“I love church by Zoom. So many people with physical challenges couldn’t get there, and now I can see them on Zoom. I love seeing the little kids.
“I think a lot about what the virus has given us. It has slowed everybody down. Made everybody do a deep dive into who they are. Before, most of us were so confined by our busyness, so confined by the things we were good at. But now we’re saying ‘Who am I without my rituals? Who am I without racing from place to place?’”
Lamott also sees a lot of practical goodness resulting from the pandemic. “Everybody’s going into their worst drawers to clean them out,” she observes. “There’s a huge amount of free stuff on the sidewalks. We went to a free library place and came away with forty books to give to shut-ins and older people.”
And the blessings. “The opportunities for service are just huge,” Lamott notes. “Phone calls still work. There’s an awareness of what does work.”
Speaking of which, Lamott fans will be glad to know she’s not been idle. Her new book, Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage will be out in March. “Do you know that twilight is at dawn and at dusk?” (No, I actually did not.) “I learned that,” the author says with Lamott-like awe. The new book – now in the publishing phase, meaning the author can rest – promises enlightenment and inspiration.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 “can’t steal the warmth and goodwill that we have for each other,” Lamott says. She is reveling in the fall colors that underlie that warmth and goodwill, and invites us all to go anti-COVID by paying attention to those colors, listening for birds like the golden whistler currently making its brief annual visit to her backyard, heightening our awareness of the seasons.
COVID may have numbed us with isolation and inconvenience, but Lamott believes it has brought us something else. “There’s an awakening to the beauty.”