Anne Lamott’s Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, is an earthy and inspiring read for all seasons of life. In her ever thought provoking and down to earth way, as an author of the people, she speaks to the heart of things touching our most vulnerable places with honesty, wit and humor. In Stitches, (Riverhead Hardcover, October 2013), she teaches us how to breathe, how to go on and even how to thrive, in the midst of life’s ultimate chaos.
The world today is experiencing epic proportions of darkness from natural disasters to global warming, gun violence to drug addiction, the ever present, ever growing violence in the Middle East to terrorist threats. In our little piece of the world, we find our own pain and anguish in a terminal diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, losing jobs, homes, and so much more. So what can we do? How can we get through it? How can we live again?
In the same way she taught writers to write in her best-selling, Bird by Bird, she teaches us how to become whole again, honoring our truest selves in the face of devastation and adversity. As we search for the meaning of life, she suggests that it has something to do with sticking together.
“We try to help ourselves and one another. We try to be more present and less petty…We look for solace in nature and art and maybe, if we are lucky, the quiet satisfaction of our homes. Is solace meaning? I don’t know. But it’s pretty close,” she writes.
And just as we are striving to be grateful and learning to get by, some community, national or worldwide tragedy occurs. Worse yet, she asks what happens if we wake up one day at 60 and realize we forgot to become the person we were born to be? Life goes by quickly, flies by really, and we wake up one day and wonder where the meaning was in all the suffering. Where did our life go?
Following a tragedy, she can’t stand it when people say, “it’s all for the best”, or “it was God’s will”, and the like. Throughout this simple yet poignant read, Lamott shares stories and quotes from notable authors, giving examples that the reader will undoubtedly relate to with a familiar ease. With typical raw and honest imagery she writes, “My understanding of incarnation is that we are not served by getting away from the grubbiness of suffering. Sometimes we feel that we are barely pulling ourselves forward through a tight tunnel on badly scraped elbows. But we do come out the other side, exhausted and changed.”
Perhaps that’s where the meaning is, in the changing. And while the devastation is going on or just behind us, we have to keep moving forward, choosing the right thing to do that will bring us closer to healing. “Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope…We live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky. If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching.” We can’t pretend life is just fine when it’s not.
“A reasonable person can’t help thinking how grotesque life is…It can be healthy to hate what life has given you, and to insist on being a big mess for a while. This takes great courage.” She goes on to say that eventually the better choice will be to get back on your feet and live again. Taking walks, staying close to a few least offensive friends might be helpful.
She poses the scariest of questions. “What if the great secret insider-trading truth is that, you don’t ever get over the biggest losses in your life?” What if we don’t recover? She has good news. “If you don’t seal up your heart with caulking compound, and instead stay permeable, people stay alive inside you, and maybe outside you too, forever.” And what helps us to overcome that nature within us that calls us to always help others, is recognizing our own needs and letting other people into our lives to help us get through our own pain.
Using an analogy of piecing together a quilt as we piece together the tragedy and challenges in life, she shares her own poignant stories rife with honesty and understanding that could only come from someone who truly understands. “You really do not get over the biggest losses, you don’t pass through grief in any organized way, and it takes years and infinitely more tears than people want to allot you. Yet the gift of grief is incalculable, in giving you back to yourself,” writes Lamott.
In Stitches, she writes of finding meaning, hope and repair in life and in the end, “The miracle is that we are here, that no matter how undone we’ve been the night before, we wake up every morning and are still here. It is phenomenal just to be.”
Anne Lamott is the author of seven novels, and several best-selling non-fiction books. Her latest release is a book of essays, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace (November 2014).