Posts tagged ‘Anne Lamott’

October 26, 2014

Anne’s Mother and Mine

I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s collection of short personal essays entitled Traveling Mercies and I’ve just finished the essay Mom. Lamott is a talented writer and she has a particular talent for evoking my empathy. Her essays are short enough where it is easy to read a number at once, which is to the reader’s detriment. It is too easy to breeze through multiple essays without taking a break to digest each on its own merits. And there are a lot of merits to digest.

But Mom might be might my favorite so far. It’s certainly the first which has caused me to cease reading and immediately start writing. And there were a number of times when I almost stopped in the middle to beginning writing. Mom is an essay on forgiveness, an essay on her mother’s capacity to forgive. But, as is Lamott’s style, she recognizes her mother’s capacity to forgive only when she recognizes how much she needs her mother’s forgiveness.

This makes me think of how much I need forgiveness. Not from God. I’m quite often conscious of how much I am in need of God’s forgiveness. I like to think I’m also very aware of how much I need the forgiveness of others. But I know I’m not. Which of course means that I’m not really conscious of the degree to which I need God’s forgiveness. And in reading Lamott I was tempted to put the book down and write an open letter begging for everyone’s forgiveness, which I deserve not, but for which I am desperate. I have real sins and persistent failures.

But I continued reading Mom. Lamott and I have very different family and personal histories which should be no surprise; she is a sixty year old woman and I am twenty-six year old man. And while she was writing mainly on forgiveness and some tragedies and victories in her family, she also wrote just about her mommy. About her mommy who was aging before her eyes.

I have thought about this before, but only as a hypothetical, like the way most contemplate the apocalypse. I have every ounce of irrational confidence that I am invincible, that I cannot be permanently broken or beaten, that I will not die or deteriorate. And whether this stems from or is transposed upon my father, I am unsure. But please rest assured, outside of the torn ACL he suffered when I was 3 and he was 27, my father is also invincible, despite his greys. And my mother, whether by her own deification, or by marriage to my father, or by giving birth to me, is also immortal, and this is only augmented by the silver strands dispersed through her dark brown hair, framing her youthful face.

This invincibility extends past me and past parents all the way to my grandparents. My mother’s story is akin to that of a Marvel character. The youngest daughter of a widow, she was raised as the almost-only child of a migratory single mother. This single mother, my grandmother, has at this narrative point refused all of death’s advances. I don’t know how many heart attacks my maternal grandmother has refuted, but it is nigh legendary. She is a wisp, the frailest feather, and she simply does not die.

My father’s parents are not a frailty that refuses to die; their vitality berates death and it flees before them. They are as I’ve always remembered them. My bald, russet-nosed, intellectual grandfather sporting suspenders; an army man born and raised in Brooklyn. When he’s in the mood, he chases his smallest grandchildren about the house. When he’s not in the mood, he barks at them to keep out from under his feet. He is half deaf, but this does nothing to diminish his esteem or authority.

My grandmother is an ageless queen, tall and commanding. My grandfather is the voice of authority, but he answers to her.  Until recently, when her joints said no mas, she played tennis with her children and grandchildren. In her 60s, her doctor told her she had the bones of a 22 year old. She has been on the mastheads of various organizations and her multiple “retirements” have not lasted. She is both staunchly Pro-Life and staunchly Pro-Women and is cowed by none.

My parents and grandparents are five invincible, immortal, Ionic pillars, but they whisper to me of their cracks. They tell me of the heart arrhythmia, of the chronic cough, of the sciatica, of the insomnia. These are myths, stories of weakness told only to enhance their feats of strength, brightening their vitality by contrast. Despite the myths of deterioration, they remain invincible until proven.

Lamott likely had the same perceptions of her parents twenty five years before she wrote Mom, that they were minor deities and by birthright, so was she. But then she lived another twenty five years. And so did her parents. I cannot acknowledge that the next forty years will bring any mortality to the Schlossberg lineage; I cannot. But one day I might find myself, like Lamott, with my siblings at varying levels of adulthood, walking along a beach, a forest path, a country meadow, or a city street with a queenly, silver haired woman leaning on the crook of my arm.

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