The Exact Right Thing

by Anne Lamott

You know how sometimes you go to church or temple or mosque, or to those little meetings for people like you, who perhaps have tiny control issues, or used to drink until you ended up face down, or married; and you sit there desperately hoping someone will say the exact right thing, to help break the toxic trance you’re in, and help you find your way back home?

I want someone to remind me that laughter is carbonated holiness. ("Laughing" by Anno Malie)

I want someone to remind me that laughter is carbonated holiness. (“Laughing” by Anno Malie)

Well, what would that exact thing be?

“One day at a time.” Hack! Thank you for sharing; I wish I’d brought my slingshot. I’d shoot you.

“Or, “You can’t feel fear and faith at the same time.” How fabulous! Did God stop by this morning and tell you that?

Well, let”s see–I happen to have a lot of fear, and a lot of faith, at the same time, a lot. I find the world as scary as it is magical, and have from the time I was four or five, when my migraines began. This place has NEVER been a good match for someone like me, who was perhaps just the tiniest bit more vulnerable and sensitive than the average bear.

Or my personal favorite, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” REALLY? So let’s see, your point is, I shouldn’t feel as hopeless or scared or sad as I do, just because the world seems to be caving in on itself, and there seems to be a sniper in the trees, picking off the people I adore? And instead, if I do feel very sad or insane, or not up to the challenge, the problem is with me, Al Franken.

When people say this stupid stuff to someone I love who is really going through it, I just hear rage. If someone says “Let go and let god,” with certainly and cheer, I know that they secretly want to get their kalashnikov and stroll through the neighborhood. What a horrible thing to say when someone is half-mad with grief or fear. I say to the recipient, “That is complete b.s, and you must promise me you will avoid that person like the plague for the foreseeable future, because they are a danger to your spirit.”

The truth is, everyone worth his or her salt–all your very best people–feel broken, stunned, overwhelmed and defective some of the time. When people don’t, when they feel very pleased with their personal upbeat selves and their all-encompassing worldview, like say, the nice Duggar family, we want to run screaming for our cute little lives. And we absolutely don’t want to sit near them at dinner.

So what do I want to hear at a gathering, like church, say, or a random group of alkies?

I want to hear, “Me, too. I have that, too. I know what that feels like.” Gandhi and Jesus knew what it feels like, the loneliness, the sadness. The brutality. Jesus often said, “It’s very hard here. Have you eaten? Look–you all stick together, go to the beach and have some fish. Share what you have. We’ll talk later.”

I want to hear, “Wow, thank you for trusting me with that. What a big f-ing drag. I’ve been through that, too. Let’s file a brief with the Complaints department. Come, we’ll sit down with a nice cup of tea and plan our strategy.”

I heard the exact right thing last week, when a preacher on the radio said, “Stop talking about the mountain that’s in your way–that makes it bigger. Talk TO the mountain. Say, I WILL defeat you.'” I had to pull off the side of the road, and I glared and looked as scary as an aging black-belt co-dependent can, and I said to my mountain, “I WILL defeat you, you f-ing dickhead mountain.” And in the following week, I did.

I want someone to say that against all odds, there is a solution. There really absolutely is. And that it’s not out there–it’s not in circumstance. Circumstances do not need to change to feel peace again or even happiness. It’s not in amassing or achieving. I so hate this. As Lily Tomlin said, the problem with winning at the rat race is that you’re still a rat. The solution is in knowing the truth. The solution is always spiritual, and it almost never has anything to do with the problem.

I want to hear someone remind me that if I want to have loving feelings, I need to do loving things. I want someone to make me laugh about our shared humanity and cuckoo-ness; I want someone to remind me that laughter is carbonated holiness. I want someone to make me promise them that I’ll get outside; that as someone else has probably said, praise is an attitude; I can–in advance–thank you-know-who, aka the Cosmic Muffin, aka Howard, as in Our Father who art in heaven, Howard be thy name. I want someone to remind me of what Ram Dass said, that we’re all just walking each other home. I want to hear that big fat cherries are on sale for $4.99 at most stores; and that peach season has officially begun.

I just want to hear that I’m loved and chosen and welcome, no matter what a mess I’ve made of things, or how defective I still feel sometimes. I just want to hear that it will get better, although maybe not tomorrow right after lunch. I want to hear that you and God will never leave me alone. That I’m not nuts for finding life a totally mixed grille, unlike the nice bumper stickers–that it can be hard, magical, brutal, gorgeous, unfair, hilarious, sweet, wild and mysterious, all at once. Or that if I am nuts, you’re nuts too; and we are so lucky to be together in this jar; and so delicious.

That is what I need to hear today, and that is what I am going to say today, in spite of it all. So there; and thank you thank you thank you.

3 replies »

  1. I so connect with this. Thanks for putting it out there. I know I’ve been guilty in my most awkward moments of saying trite things. After going through a really difficult time a few years ago I have learned to keep those sayings on the shelf and to connect in a more genuine way…or to just say “I don’t know what to say…so sorry you’re going through this. When can we get together.”


  2. You couldn’t have said it better. I am going to send this to my daughter who is going through a hard time and is tired of people trying to make her feel better by saying things that make her feel worse. Thank you for making me laugh today too.


Please join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.