- By Anne Lamott
- Riverhead Books
- 192 pp.
- Reviewed by Donya Currie
- April 7, 2018
This little gem of a book reminds us how to rise above and grow during difficult times.
That’s not to say mercy is simple. It might always be available, but the trick is to be open and humble, as Lamott so clearly illustrates in Hallelujah Anyway. She has a knack for describing the struggle we all have in examining our own ugliness, in truly forgiving, in treating others how we would like to be treated. She uses her own foibles to show us we’re not alone, that we’d all sometimes much rather punch someone in the face than turn the other cheek.
“We try to come from a place of mercy because it is good practice; no one is very good at it, especially when someone doesn’t deserve it and knows exactly which of our buttons to push.”
She’s hilarious, too, in reflecting upon the belief that God created humans because He thought we would enjoy life. “God thought we would like puberty, warfare and snakes? I could go on and on — senescence, global warming, Parkinson’s, spiders?”
Yes, she writes, because amid the scary and unpleasant parts of being on earth, we get “love, singing, nature, laughing, mercy.”
We can be so beaten down by the world that we “shove mercy and trust into a drawer.” She’s so right. How much easier it is to walk around and pretend we don’t care about others, what they think of us, the hurtful words they hurl? A lot of us need reminding that “forgiveness and mercy mean that, bit by bit, you begin to outshine the resentment. You open the drawer that was shut and you take out the precious treasures that you hid so long ago there.”
That means letting yourself love and experience the wonder of life. Ever had a bad day turned around by a small kindness? Every morning when I board the bus to work, it’s crammed with grumpy people trying to shake off sleepiness and the worry of the coming day. Without fail, someone offers me his seat. I never take it because I don’t mind standing for the 20-minute drive, but every time, that kindness turns my mood around. And then I want to do something kind for someone else.
What gets in the way, usually, when we’re all trying to be more merciful and kind, are the troubles we want to forget. For Lamott, she says it’s when she and her son are at odds. And for many of us, the stresses of everyday life weigh us down too much to remember mercy most days.
“Carl Jung said that most painful issues can’t be solved — they can only be outgrown, but that takes time and deep work. Nothing in our culture allows us to do that anymore: Don’t sit with pain! Go to eBay, the gym, Facebook, Zoologie. Outside, the world is in such a frenzy, megabyte-driven, alien, dehumanizing.”
Reading Lamott’s latest book feels like sitting down with a warm friend who wants to remind you it all really will be okay. How? Because “Pope Francis says the name of God is mercy. Our name was mercy, too, until we put it away to become more productive, more admired and less vulnerable. We tend to forget it’s still there. It’s our unclaimed selves, in the Lost and Found drawer, access to another frequency, like a tuning fork.”
She even dares us, repeatedly, by using anecdotes (both funny and poignant), to try every day to be open to mercy.
“Images of tiny things, babies, yeast, and mustard seeds can guide us,” Lamott writes. “Things that grow are what change everything.”
Lamott takes the Bible and applies it to 2017, often in her genius, comical way. She says the Old Testament prophet Micah “must have looked like a complete stoner or a Game of Thrones extra, and smelled like a goat.”
She gives an account of shopping to distract herself that had me laughing so hard I cried. Who among us hasn’t been wooed by the promise of that perfect purchase, only to discover we’re still the same flawed human being now wearing a brand-new dress/sweater/revitalizing makeup, etc.?
Reading this book will remind you that you’re not alone, and that it is possible to avail yourself of mercy. Even on the most difficult of days.
[Editor's note: This review originally ran in 2017.]
Donya Currie is a journalist, fiction writer, and the web manager for a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC.